The real civil rights issue of our time Josh Holdenried

IIn his new memoir, former Attorney General William P. Barr defends religious liberty as the most pressing civil rights issue of our time. One Damned Thing at a Time: Memoirs of an Attorney General deserves both attention and praise, especially now that government excesses are once again threatening the rights to religious liberty and freedom of expression.

To cite just one example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to develop two rules that would likely require religious nonprofits to cover “sex reassignment” surgeries and treatments, including for minors. The rules classify transgender treatment as a new “significant health benefit”; They would mandate that employers take on child puberty blockers, sex-crossing hormones, genital and non-genital surgeries, and maybe more. A draft rule claims that HHS will comply with liberty of conscience and religion laws, but it’s not clear if or how those exceptions will be recognized.

These proposed rules come from the same playbook as the “prevention mandate” the Obama administration used against religious employers in 2011. This rule required almost all insurance plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortifacients. Slightly exempt from this mandate were churches and houses of worship, but not religious non-profit organizations involved in social services such as education and health care, like the Little Sisters of the Poor.

If there is any doubt that President Biden will be as punitive on the transgender issue as he and Obama have been on the contraceptive mandate, Barr reminds us that Biden has repeatedly said that “transgender rights” “are the civil rights issue of our time”. In response, Barr writes, “I disagree. I believe the civil rights issue of our time is our religious liberty, which is enshrined in the freedom-to-practice clause and the founding clause of the First Amendment.”

Barr’s defense of religious liberty is not just one of accommodation and liberation; he does not base his argument on the assumption that any kind of freedom is good as an end in itself. Rather, Barr defends religious liberty on the grounds that the moral and civic virtues inculcated by religion enable a free society to self-govern. The American founders understood this well. “A healthy religious sphere,” Barr writes, “is a necessary condition of a system in which the power of government can be effectively limited and tied to the preservation of the widest personal liberties of its citizens.”

Barr quotes not only the founders, but also seminal thinkers from St. Augustine to Edmund Burke. These men understood that religion was necessary for a truly free society because “its function was to make men virtuous in the world and better able to control their passions and appetites.” “Liberty needs religion,” Barr writes, “not necessarily in every individual, but in a society generally.”

This isn’t the first time Barr has publicly defended religious virtue. Barr chose to put religion at the center of his first major speech as attorney general, when he spoke at the University of Notre Dame in October 2019. In his remarks he pointed out that “the secular project has itself become a religion pursued with religious zeal . She takes on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunications. Those who defy the faith risk symbolic burning at the stake — social, educational, and professional ostracism and exclusion enforced through court cases and brutal social media campaigns.”

Barr’s speech prompted predictable gaslighting from the left, which attempted to distort his remarks as endorsing “fascism” and “theocracy.” But Barr was right: A cursory review of Supreme Court cases over the past few years reveals that secular activists are those who seek to use government coercion to coerce others to accept and embrace their beliefs. When commenting on high-profile cases such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Barr notes that “the goal is not really to ensure the availability of services, but to prevent religious people from acting in a way that expresses their views”. Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop, was fined again last year for refusing to bake a gender-reassignment cake for a Colorado activist.

The goals of today’s secular liberals are not modest. They seek not only to challenge traditional religious beliefs, but to replace them with what Barr describes as “a totalizing religion of irreligion” – one that eclipses the religious sphere altogether and seeks to address religion’s role in the education of human souls to tear…[it] is based on ideas about human nature, the universe, human duties and the purpose of life that supersede and subvert any religious belief, particularly the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview.” Even more dangerously, this religion of secularism “is a dogma that is decidedly at odds with objective reality,” particularly in relation to the issues of life, sex and gender.

Yet neither objective reality nor biology prevents the left from making secular liberalism the mainstream religion of the United States, particularly through public education. Barr notes that the Supreme Court anticipated this threat Abington v. Schempp, a 1963 case dealing with prayer in public schools. The court stated that “the state must not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense that it is hostile or hostile to religion, thus ‘preferring those who believe in no religion over those who believe.'” Liberal activists have big ones They have enjoyed success over the last century by using the “separation of church and state” as a pretext to stigmatize traditional values ​​while establishing their own secular religion.

The proposed HHS rules on transgender procedures, if and when finalized, would simply be the latest iterations of this secular belief. One does not have to be religious to see that such orders not only threaten religious freedom but also go against objective reality. Hopefully, as the left becomes more extreme in its use of government coercion, Americans will realize that religious liberty remains the strongest bulwark against this secular inquisition. Religious freedom is the civil rights issue of our time. Bill Barr understands that, and so should we.

Josh Holdenried is executive director of the Napa Legal Institute.

first things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the discussion and make a contribution today.

Click here to donate.

click here to subscribe first things.

Comments are closed.