Attorney General William Barr spoke at the (virtual) National Catholic Prayer Breakfast yesterday and was awarded the “Christifideles Laici Award” for — and I’m not making this up — his Christ-like behavior.
He used his acceptance speech, naturally, to further trash the concept of church/state separation.
That crucial link between religion and liberty, so well understood at the Founding, is all too often forgotten today. In American public discourse, perhaps no concept is more misunderstood than the notion of “separation of church and state.” Militant secularists have long seized on that slogan as a facile justification for attempting to drive religion from the public square and to exclude religious people from bringing a religious perspective to bear on conversations about the common good.
Yet as events like this one remind us, separation of church and state does not mean, and never did mean, separation of religion and civics…
“Militant secularists” is a strange way to describe people whose primary goal is getting the government to respect the First Amendment.
Church/state separation is understood just fine. It’s Barr who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between bringing your values to the table — which no one objects to — and advocating legislation based solely on your religious beliefs no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary. No one is barred from serving in public office if they are religious, nor are they expected to check their beliefs at the door.
The current administration’s policies have been shaped by the whims of white evangelicals and conservative Catholics, intent on using their political power to advance their religious agenda, on issues from trans people in the military to all things Israel. It’s ironic that Barr, of all people, talks about excluding religious people from anything given that this administration is responsible for the Muslim ban.
You can expect Barr to use the same lines next week, after we find out which Catholic receives a Supreme Court nomination. Any questions about how religion may influence her decision-making will likely be considered off-limits, at least in theory, by Republicans. (The same ones who constantly challenge the patriotism of non-Christian lawmakers.)
For a man who distorts the Constitution for personal gain, it’s no surprise Barr is doing the same with his own faith, using his beliefs to persecute those who don’t share his views.