Paul L. Caron
Dean


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Two Very Different Perspectives On Attorney General Barr's Notre Dame Speech

Following up on last Sunday's post, In Advance Of Law School Speech By Attorney General William Barr, Notre Dame Dean Marcus Cole Issued A Ringing Defense Of Free Speech:

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Bill Barr ‘Gets’ Religion; The Attorney General Gives a Speech on Secularism, and the Left Goes Bananas:, by William McGurn:

For Notre Dame fans, this football weekend was a twofer. Not only did the Irish beat a longtime rival, the University of Southern California, on Saturday, the campus was treated to a sight it had never before seen: the attorney general of the United States, at a pregame tailgater, serenading faculty, students and fans with his bagpipes.

Turns out that was William Barr’s second performance on campus. The first came at the law school Friday, when he delivered a bracing speech on the role of religion in the American story of freedom.

The attorney general advanced two broad propositions. First, the waning of religion’s influence in American life has left more of her citizens vulnerable to what Tocqueville called the “soft despotism” of government dependency. Second, today’s secularists are decidedly not of the live-and-let-live variety.

“The secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor,” he said. “It is taking on all the trappings of religion, including inquisitions and excommunication. Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake—social, educational and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns.”

Right out of central casting, critics stepped forward to prove his point. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman accused Mr. Barr of “religious bigotry” and described his words as a “pogrom type speech.” ...

This is what we have come to expect when someone in public life mentions religion in a positive light. Many didn’t like Mr. Barr’s blaming secularism for social pathologies such as drug addiction, family breakdown and increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males. Yet few engaged his more arresting contention, which is that all these problems have spiritual roots. Whereas religion addresses such challenges by stressing personal responsibility, Mr. Barr argued, the state’s answer is merely to try to alleviate “bad consequences.”

“So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion,” he said. “The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites. The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the state to set itself up as an ersatz husband for the single mother and an ersatz father for the children. The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with this wreckage—and while we think we’re solving problems, we are underwriting them.” ...

That so many would become unhinged by Mr. Barr’s relatively modest contribution to the genre is highly revealing of the absolutism of secularist opponents determined to marginalize and destroy anyone who dares dissent from their own uncompromising orthodoxy.

New York Times op-ed: God Is Now Trump’s Co-Conspirator; Bigotry, Both Racial and Religious, Is the Last Refuge of a Scoundrel, by Paul Krugman:

Listening to the speech William Barr, the attorney general, gave last week at the University of Notre Dame Law School, I found myself thinking of the title of an old movie: “God Is My Co-Pilot.” What I realized is that Donald Trump’s minions have now gone that title one better: If Barr’s speech is any indication, their strategy is to make God their boss’s co-conspirator. ...

Barr gave a fiery speech denouncing the threat to America posed by “militant secularists,” whom he accused of conspiring to destroy the “traditional moral order,” blaming them for rising mental illness, drug dependency and violence. ...

William Barr — again, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, responsible for defending the Constitution — is sounding remarkably like America’s most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution. Guns don’t kill people — Darwin kills people!

So what’s going on here? Pardon my cynicism, but I seriously doubt that Barr, whose boss must be the least godly man ever to occupy the White House, has suddenly realized to his horror that America is becoming more secular. No, this outburst of God-talk is surely a response to the way the walls are closing in on Trump, the high likelihood that he will be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. ...

[T]he efforts of Trump’s henchmen to use the specter of secularism to distract people from their boss’s sins probably won’t work. But I could be wrong. And if I am wrong, if religious bigotry turns out to be a winning strategy, all I can say is, God help us.

The New Yorker:  William Barr’s Wild Misreading of the First Amendment, by Jeffrey Toobin:

William P. Barr just gave the worst speech by an Attorney General of the United States in modern history. ... Historically illiterate, morally obtuse, and willfully misleading, the speech portrays religious people in the United States as beset by a hostile band of “secularists.” ...

Perhaps the most galling part of Barr’s speech, under current circumstances, is its hymn to the pious life. He denounces “moral chaos” and “irresponsible personal conduct,” as well as “licentiousness—the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good.” By contrast, “religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good.” Throughout this lecture, one can only wonder if William Barr has ever actually met Donald Trump.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2019/10/two-very-different-perspectives-on-attorney-general-barrs-notre-dame-speech.html

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