Attorney General’s Religious Liberty Defense Contrasts Calls to Punish Christians Over Beliefs on Marriage

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The 2020 US presidential campaign has taken a dark turn.

Beto O’Rourke

It happened several weeks ago at an LGBTQ town hall for Democratic presidential candidates when former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke enthusiastically supported stripping the tax-exempt status from colleges, churches, and charities that don’t support same-sex marriage. Christians have been lambasted as paranoid for thinking the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage would lead to this, but now a presidential candidate received thunderous applause for advocating this type of religious persecution on a national stage. 

This development could tempt Christians to fear their government leaders might begin to shy away from defending religious liberty, but a recent speech by US Attorney General William Barr should help dispel that apprehension. His address, delivered at the University of Notre Dame the day after the LGBTQ town hall, gave a beautiful and eloquent explanation of why our founding fathers put such an emphasis on protecting religious liberty and why its defense is essential to the future of our republic. He even highlighted the threats to religious liberty within California’s public education system. 

Thank God we have an attorney general and a federal administration interested in protecting religious liberty. Knowing the dwindling number of California state legislators willing to defend freedom of religion, it gives me courage to see a governmental official, in the highest office in the land, fight for it publicly with such vigor.

This is a breath of fresh air. Barr has lit a bright candle to help dispel the creeping darkness of tyranny. We need our political and religious leaders to follow his example in order to turn that flame into a raging fire.

Please read or watch the entire speech for yourself and share it with your children and grandchildren. To whet your appetite, I have provided some excerpts of the speech below.  

“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.”

“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.

By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition. These practical statesmen understood that individuals, while having the potential for great good, also had the capacity for great evil.

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity. But, if you rely on the coercive power of government to impose restraints, this will inevitably lead to a government that is too controlling, and you will end up with no liberty, just tyranny.

On the other hand, unless you have some effective restraint, you end up with something equally dangerous – licentiousness – the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good. This is just another form of tyranny – where the individual is enslaved by his appetites, and the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.”

“So the Founders decided to take a gamble. They called it a great experiment. They would leave ‘the People’ broad liberty, limit the coercive power of the government, and place their trust in self-discipline and the virtue of the American people.

In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us to govern ourselves…” But what was the source of this internal controlling power? In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings.

Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves – freely obeying the dictates of inwardly-possessed and commonly-shared moral values. And to control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

In short, 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 man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.”

“More recently, we have seen the law used aggressively to force religious people and entities to subscribe to practices and policies that are antithetical to their faith.

The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith.

This reminds me of how some Roman emperors could not leave their loyal Christian subjects in peace but would mandate that they violate their conscience by offering religious sacrifice to the emperor as a god.”

“First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

“Because this Administration firmly supports accommodation of religion, the battleground has shifted to the states. Some state governments are now attempting to compel religious individuals and entities to subscribe to practices, or to espouse viewpoints, that are incompatible with their religion.

Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools. To me, this is the most serious challenge to religious liberty. 

For anyone who has a religious faith, by far the most important part of exercising that faith is the teaching of that religion to our children. The passing on of the faith. There is no greater gift we can give our children and no greater expression of love.

For the government to interfere in that process is a monstrous invasion of religious liberty. Yet here is where the battle is being joined, and I see the secularists are attacking on three fronts.

The first front relates to the content of public school curriculum. Many states are adopting curriculum that is incompatible with traditional religious principles according to which parents are attempting to raise their children. They often do so without any opt-out for religious families.

Thus, for example, New Jersey recently passed a law requiring public schools to adopt an LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching. Similar laws have been passed in California and Illinois. And the Orange County Board of Education in California issued an opinion that “parents who disagree with the instructional materials related to gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation may not excuse their children from this instruction.”

“Now, there have been times and places where the traditional moral order has been shaken. In the past, societies – like the human body – seem to have a self-healing mechanism – a self-correcting mechanism that gets things back on course if things go too far.

The consequences of moral chaos become too pressing. The opinion of decent people rebels. They coalesce and rally against obvious excess. Periods of moral entrenchment follow periods of excess. This is the idea of the pendulum. We have all thought that after a while the “pendulum will swing back.”

But today we face something different that may mean that we cannot count on the pendulum swinging back.”

“I do not mean to suggest that there is no hope for moral renewal in our country. But we cannot sit back and just hope the pendulum is going to swing back toward sanity.”

“…We must place greater emphasis on the moral education of our children.
Education is not vocational training. It is leading our children to the recognition that there is truth and helping them develop the faculties to discern and love the truth and the discipline to live by it.

We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing to the next generation our faith and values in full vigor.”

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