Attorney General William P. Barr spoke on religious liberty, “the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” and “the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism” at the Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, on Oct. 11. The beginning of his address appears below, followed by a link to the full transcript at the Justice Department’s website.
Today, I would like to share some thoughts with you about religious liberty in America. It’s an important priority in this Administration and for this Department of Justice.
We have set up a task force within the Department with different components that have equities in this area, including the Solicitor General’s Office, the Civil Division, the Office of Legal Counsel, and other offices. We have regular meetings. We keep an eye out for cases or events around the country where states are misapplying the Establishment Clause in a way that discriminates against people of faith, or cases where states adopt laws that impinge upon the free exercise of religion.
From the Founding Era onward, there was strong consensus about the centrality of religious liberty in the United States.
The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.
In his renowned 1785 pamphlet, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” James Madison described religious liberty as “a right towards men” but “a duty towards the Creator,” and a “duty….precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.
It has been over 230 years since that small group of colonial lawyers led a revolution and launched what they viewed as a great experiment, establishing a society fundamentally different than those that had gone before.
They crafted a magnificent charter of freedom – the United States Constitution – which provides for limited government, while leaving “the People” broadly at liberty to pursue our lives both as individuals and through free associations.
This quantum leap in liberty has been the mainspring of unprecedented human progress, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.
In the 20th century, our form of free society faced a severe test.
There had always been the question whether a democracy so solicitous of individual freedom could stand up against a regimented totalitarian state.
That question was answered with a resounding “yes” as the United States stood up against and defeated, first fascism, and then communism.
But in the 21st century, we face an entirely different kind of challenge.
The challenge we face is precisely what the Founding Fathers foresaw would be our supreme test as a free society.
They never thought the main danger to the republic came from external foes. The central question was whether, over the long haul, we could handle freedom. The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.
Read more here.