(CNS News) -- At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday, a virtual, online event, Attorney General William Barr said that the “separation of church and state does not mean separation of religion and civics," and added that "militant secularists" had used the "separation" claim to try to "drive religion from the public square.”
The attorney general further said that America's cultural degeneration stemmed from a loss of “traditional morality,” and stressed that religion is the “strongest bulwark against tyranny.”
(To see video of the speakers, click here.)
Barr is a Catholic who attended Catholic schools as a boy. He is married and has three daughters. He first served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush (1991-1993), and started as attorney general under President Trump in February 2019.
At the prayer breakfast, Barr said, “[A]s events like this one remind us, separation of church and state does not mean, and never did mean, separation of religion and civics. As late as 1952, Justice William O. Douglas could write for a majority of the Supreme Court that ‘we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’”
“Alexis de Tocqueville, the keenest observer of the early American republic, praised America’s separation of church and state while extolling America’s union of the ‘spirit of religion’ and the ‘spirit of liberty’ as the key to its success,” said Barr. “And Tocqueville identified religion as perhaps the ‘greatest bulwark against a descent into tyranny.’"
He continued: “How does religion preserve liberty? In the first place, as our Founders recognized, religion assists in the formation of virtuous citizens who are prepared to exercise liberty responsibly. Whereas, in democratic times, individuals have a tendency to withdraw from public life and pursue private self-gratification, religion builds community, strengthens social cohesion, and turns our attention to the common good.”
“At the same time,” said Barr, “religion safeguards individual rights by warding off what Tocqueville called the ‘impious maxim’ that ‘everything is permitted in the interest of society.’ For all of these reasons, Tocqueville referred to Americans’ religion as ‘the first of their political institutions.’”
“Unfortunately, in the last half century, that foundation of our free society has increasingly been under siege,” said the attorney general. “Traditional morality has eroded, and secularists have often succeeded not only in eliminating religion from schools and the public square, but in replacing it with new orthodoxies that are actively hostile to religion.”
“The consequences of this hollowing out of religion have been predictably dire,” Barr said. “Over the past 50 years, we have seen striking increases in urban violence, drug abuse, and broken families. Problems like these have fed the rise of an ever more powerful central government, one that increasingly saps individual initiative, coopts civil society, crowds out religious institutions, and ultimately reduces citizens to wards of the State.”
Attorney General Barr, who was awarded the Christifideles Laici award by the NCPB, spoke at the breakfast on Wednesday morning to a virtual audience of more than 3,000 people.
The Christifideles Laici award is given to individuals who the NCPB has determined live out the lay Catholic apostolate in an exemplary manner. The award is named after Pope St. John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic exhortation to the laity. The dedication of the award reads: “In Honor and Gratitude for Fidelity to the Church, Exemplary Selfless and Steadfast Service in the Lord’s Vineyard.”