The moral hypocrisy of Attorney General Bill Barr 

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Thomas Jefferson introduced as his own interpretation of the First Amendment. If the Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people,” then it was not made for men like Jefferson or Franklin.  Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Thomas Jefferson introduced as his own interpretation of the First Amendment. If the Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people,” then it was not made for men like Jefferson or Franklin. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

Attorney General William Barr, like so many who have come before him, refuses to accept the fact that Christians are not allowed to assert ownership of the United States and its history. While speaking at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana, the attorney general claimed the Framers of the United States Constitution knew “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people,” even though the First Amendment to the Constitution specifically forbids the government from compelling the people to be religious. Ben Franklin, a deist, was “pointed at with horror” and called “an infidel or atheist” in his day, and the “separation of church and state” which so appalls Barr is an idea Thomas Jefferson introduced as his own interpretation of the First Amendment. If the Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people,” then it was not made for men like Jefferson or Franklin, neither of whom believed in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth.  

But, Barr would counter Jefferson and Franklin established a system of “Judeo-Christian values that have made this country great,” and the leftist, secular “erosion” of those values is the cause of mental illness, suicide, “increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic.” The question of what causes any social ill seldom has a simple, singular answer, but Bill Barr is somehow certain that secularism is making people kill each other and themselves. If that were true, then a rise in secularism in the United States would correspond with an increase in crime. 

There is no such correspondence. The violent crime rate fell 51% between 1993 and 2018, a period of 25 years during which U.S. citizens became much more secular according to Fact Tank. This does not prove that secularism makes people any less violent because there are a hundred other factors to consider when determining what causes trends in crime. Barr, though, is not troubled by those other factors, as he already knows that a lack of religion makes everyone go berserk. In a piece of scholarship authored in 1995, Bill Barr said that American school systems in the 1950s dealt only with students “chewing gum and talking out of turn,” while those same schools were dealing with “suicide, rape, robbery, and assault” by the mid-1980s. There was an uptick in the rate of violent crime in late 20th-century America, but violent crime has fallen precipitously since then.  


The violent crime rate fell 51% between 1993 and 2018, a period of 25 years during which US citizens became much more secular according to Fact Tank.  Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

The violent crime rate fell 51% between 1993 and 2018, a period of 25 years during which US citizens became much more secular according to Fact Tank. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

 To hear President Barr tell it, one would think people who do not believe in God are ready to overthrow the government, tear up the Constitution, and plunge the United States into anarchy. Merely responding to this publicly-available speech by the attorney general is, according to the president’s cadre of enablers in the press, an act of “war.” That was the term Miranda Devine of The New York Post used to describe the left’s approach to “Judeo-Christian morality.” Devine accused The New York Times’s Paul Krugman of penning a “perverse misrepresentation of Barr’s speech” because Krugman said Barr “denounc[ed]” non-religious citizens.  

Devine does not believe that blaming secular Americans for “ruining our country” is the same thing as “denouncing them.” This is why writers ought to keep a dictionary handy. The liberal “assault on [Barr’s] speech,” Devine wrote, “was swift and vicious.” Since when did writing an op-ed become the same thing as assault? If Paul Krugman writing a think-piece in The New York Times constitutes militancy, then Devine commits acts of militancy every week. Someone ought to stop her before her vicious assaults claim another victim the next time she puts out an article.  

Even if unrestrained immorality had truly taken hold of this country, the Attorney General ought to examine his culpability in letting crime and corruption become commonplace. When he worked as attorney general for President George H.W. Bush, Bill Barr played an instrumental role in securing pardons for five White House aides involved in the illegal sale of weapons to the Contras, a right-wing Nicaraguan rebel group. To keep this partnership afloat, the White House aides looked the other way while the Contras funneled cocaine into the U.S., sometimes using the same planes that carried guns from the U.S. to Nicaragua.  

Bush pardoned these employees so that they would not reveal just how “fully” he knew “the details” of the White House partnership with the Contras when he was Reagan’s vice president. That makes not one, but two presidents who obstructed justice and had their careers saved by Attorney General Bill Barr. Barr helped cover up a criminal conspiracy involving perjury, withholding evidence, destroying evidence, illegal arms-dealing and international drug-running. He does not have the moral authority to get behind a pulpit and accuse anyone of making the United States a dishonest, unprincipled place. 

Aside from Bill Barr’s moral hypocrisy, the political context of his speech at Notre Dame offers another reason to doubt his sincerity. Barr’s scapegoating of secular Americans is a cheap trick to demonize liberals and spur political polarization. The attorney general was only one of three senior members of the Trump White House to rail against atheists and secularists on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12 The other two were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president himself. They spent the weekend stoking political and religious polarization to distract from the President’s request that Ukraine interfere in the 2020 election and because divisive rhetoric is generally good for votes. As wrongheaded as Barr’s speech was on its own, it must be remembered that he only gave the speech to deflect criticism of this presidential administration’s naked, self-serving corruption. Perhaps the attorney general ought to read The Bible more, as whatever moral system he believes in cannot motivate him to “restrain” the “individual rapacity” of his employer. 


Alex Klein is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at alex.klein@uconn.edu.

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