John Stonestreet on William Barr and His Detractors: Competing Visions for Religious Freedom and Our Life Together

In this Jan. 15, 2019 photo, Attorney General nominee William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In a 1798 address to the Massachusetts Militia, President John Adams said, “We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion.” Human vices can, he continued, “break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.”

Then, Adams famously concluded, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Two centuries later, many people see religion not only as unnecessary for constitutional governance, they see it as an absolute hindrance. The differences between the “freedom of religion” and “freedom from religion” crowds are about as deep as it gets. Not only are there competing views on religion in public life fighting for the public square, there are competing visions of the human person and what it even means to be free.

A recent speech at Notre Dame, by U. S. Attorney General William Barr, offered a clear and accurate explanation of religious freedom and why it matters, as well as the challenges it faces today. In clear and sobering terms, Barr described what the Founders regarded as “our supreme test as a free society,” that is, “whether the citizens in such a free society [can] maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.”

Failing this test, Barr explained, will lead to one of two tyrannies, either “the coercive power of government to impose restraints,” or “the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good … where … the possibility of any healthy community life crumbles.” To put it differently, either we govern ourselves, or the state must step in to restrain our passions.

And, what is the source of the self-discipline and virtue necessary for self-government? Religion. Specifically, biblical religion. As Barr put it, “Religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good … It does this through moral education and by informing society’s informal rules – its customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages.”

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Source: Christian Headlines