A week or so ago, a dear cousin sent me an article which she had read and about which she felt uncomfortable. She asked me to read it and to provide her with my feedback. As requested, I perused the piece. It is no wonder she was concerned.
What she sent me was the text of a speech U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr delivered to the law school and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. After reading it I was not just uncomfortable; I was disturbed.
Now before continuing, I want to note three things: first, I am a product of the public school system who returned to a career teaching in a public school (of which I am singularly proud); second, I am citizen who believes in the rule of law and in constitutionally guaranteed rights; and third, I am an active Christian who, after more than 50 years, stills teaches a weekly Sunday School Bible study class and occasionally preaches in my Lutheran parish.
These credentials explain my dismay at what Barr said to his audience at Notre Dame.
When he finally arrived to the marrow of his oration, the Attorney General strongly intimated that the way to solve the “social pathology” in our nation is to funnel public funding to private religious schools, primarily to Christian schools which will counter “the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism” which he sees as a scourge on the nation.
Barr’s insinuation is another strike in the administration’s offensive against public education, an essential building block of a strong democracy.
To me, a strong public education is an indispensable aspect of assuring the equality, happiness, and liberty envisioned by the country’s founders.
Diverting public tax dollars to private ecclesiastical schools will do more to divide us than to unite us, since students will spend more of their lives in homogeneous environments rather than in the diversity that public schools offer.
Barr’s tack is consistent with that of his his boss — President Donald Trump’s — who wants to encourage an us versus them mentality in the populace.
One would think the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government would be certain to uphold the U.S. Constitution; the positions he proffers in his speech, however, seem to ignore both the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, which extended religious freedom by preventing states from enacting laws that would advance or inhibit any one religion.
As galling as Barr’s attacks on public education and his dancing around the edges of the Constitution is his failure to see his misuse of the Christian faith.
He says, “The Founding generation were Christians. They believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man.”
History claims otherwise; historians note that many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians.
Michael Sean Winters, Visiting Fellow at Catholic University, writes, “It is true that Christian moral sensibilities were in the air the Founders breathed, but it is also true that the nation’s first three presidents were not orthodox Christians but Deists.”
And then there is the hypocrisy.
Barr, who professes his Christianity, opines, “I can assure you that, as long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be at the forefront of this effort, ready to fight for the most cherished of our liberties: the freedom to live according to our faith.”
If Barr is living according to his Christian faith, I wonder how he can possibly support such an unprincipled, morally bankrupt, fornicating, mendacious president of a supposed religious country.
“By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition,” he claims. I suppose, along with unity and equality, “classical Christian tradition” has been cast aside on Barr’s watch.
If Barr is purportedly living and leading per the Judeo-Christian moral system, he clearly has not studied or understood the Judeo-Christian scriptures as they apply to matters such as immigration.
For instance, in the Hebrew Pentateuch, Yahweh instructs how His people are to treat foreigners: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”
Further, Christians strive to live by the words of Jesus, who said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
As the Christian faith developed, others expounded on Jesus’ witness; St. Paul instructed, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” When Barr is complicit in the anti-immigrant executive orders, he is living in antithesis to the basic teachings of his faith.
Barr asks rhetorically: “How does religion promote the moral discipline and virtue needed to support free government?” and then answers his own question: “… it gives us the right rules to live by….Those moral precepts start with the two great commandments – to Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.”
I cannot speculate if Barr follows the first of these commands; however I do not see any evidence that he observes the second one.
“This was hard for me to get through. I’m beginning to question my own faith,” lamented my cousin in her note to me. Such speciousness from one of the most powerful individuals in our government who uses religion to subvert the basic tenets of our nation can cause a person to question the role of faith in one’s life.
“ … As long as I am Attorney General, the Department of Justice will be at the forefront of this effort …,” he said.
Let’s hope (I will not say pray and misuse my religious beliefs) that Barr’s (and that of the rest of his cadre) as long as is not much longer.
In the meantime I intend to continue living by the two great commandments: to love God with my whole heart, soul, and mind; and to love my neighbors as myself. Bar(r) none.
Capital-Star opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, of North Middleton Township, Pa., is a retired English and Humanities teacher. His work appears monthly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].