Not long after leaving President George H.W. Bush’s Justice Department, former Attorney General William Barr penned an essay decrying the secularization of American culture and politics and urging a return to government based on Judeo-Christian values.
[I]n a 1995 essay, Barr expressed an extreme view that American government should not be secular, but instead should impose “a transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that… flows from God’s eternal law.”
Barr went on to blame everything from crime to sexually transmitted diseases on a government-led attack on “traditional values.” He explicitly called for the government to subsidize Catholic religious education and to promote laws which “restrain sexual immorality,” a reference to homosexuality and extramarital sex.
While his words might have been written as a private citizen, Barr has the opportunity once again to serve his country, making his worldview highly relevant to how he might behave as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
The worldview described in his essay, “Legal Issues in a New Political Order” published in the St. John’s University Law School journal The Catholic Lawyer, does not paint the picture of a moderate who could win the support of Democrats and Republicans alike but of an “extreme, hostile view of most of American society”.
“The American government,” he wrote, “was predicated precisely on [the] Judeo-Christian system” that “flows from God's eternal law.” But since the 1960s, Barr wrote, “the state no longer sees itself as a moral institution, but a secular one.”
Specifically, Barr continued, “through legislative action, litigation, or judicial interpretation, secularists continually seek to eliminate laws that reflect' traditional moral norms. Decades ago, we saw the barriers to divorce eliminated. Twenty years ago, we saw the laws against abortion swept away. Today, we are seeing the constant chipping away at laws designed to restrain sexual immorality, obscenity, or euthanasia.”
In fact, those “barriers to divorce” often forced women to remain in abusive or miserable marriages, and treated men as the “head and master” of the household with near absolute power, especially over shared property. And the “laws designed to restrain sexual immorality” criminalized gay sex, condemning millions of lesbian and gay people to lives of misery, isolation, and vulnerability to criminal prosecution and violence.
These views and others Barr expressed in his essay are grounds for rigorous questioning during his confirmation hearing.
Equally troubling as his view of government’s role in American society is his view of the right-left political divide:
Barr has a highly dualistic, simplistic, and moralistic view of conservatives and liberals. His essay describes a “historic struggle between two fundamentally different systems of values.” On the one hand is the “traditional Judeo-Christian moral system.” On the other is “secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.”
This is obviously false: in fact, moderate religionists and the ‘spiritual but not religious’ comprise a large plurality of Americans, and they are neither wedded to traditionalist doctrines nor to relativism. They understand that principles such as treating people fairly, minimizing suffering, and providing access to justice are indeed fundamental ethical values. Liberals do not believe, as Barr alleges, that “everyone writes their own rule book.” They simply do not believe that morality depends on God-given natural law.
The views that Barr has expressed are not those of a moderate as he is being portrayed but of an arch-conservative with an extreme, hostile view of most of American society. In his world, the Christian nation has been corrupted by decades of post-1960s relativism and secularism. Unless he has revised his positions in recent years, Barr’s appointment would be a disaster for the civil rights of women, LGBTs, non-religious people, and others.