On Oct. 11, Attorney General William Barr gave a powerful and poignant speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School concerning religious liberty in America in 2019. It is available online and is well worth reading. Barr begins by making the point that protecting religious freedom was a top priority for the Founders of our country and the Framers of our Constitution. It reflected their firm and unwavering belief that “religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.” One of the primary reasons for religion’s indispensability was that it promoted “the moral discipline and virtue” necessary for a stable and healthy society. As Barr put it, “In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people — a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and manmade law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.”
Militant secularism and moral relativism have eroded that power of self-discipline in the lives of a growing number of our citizens — and we are currently reaping the tragic consequences of this widespread erosion of virtue in the social discord we see all around us. Dostoevsky’s famous quote is applicable here: “If God does not exist, everything is permissible.”
Barr eventually identifies the most disturbing aspect of the current attack on religious liberty when he notes that “militant secularists today do not have a live and let live spirit — they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.” The Little Sisters of the Poor would certainly attest to that.
Barr ends his speech on a positive note, reminding us that if we actively live our faith by “putting our principles into practice in our own personal lives” and focus on the “moral education of our children,” there is hope for positive social change.
And, of course, as with all things, we must pray — a lot!