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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Monday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr put out an "all-points bulletin," to his 93 U.S. attorneys to "be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens."
In a memo Barr made public, he told his staff that their first order of business had been "to prioritize cases against those seeking to illicitly profit from the pandemic," but now the threat was to American civil liberties, including religious freedom, and that needed to be part of their work as well.
Barr instructed his attorneys, "If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court."
Also of interest, the memo named Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for civil rights, and Matthew Schneider, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, "to oversee and coordinate our efforts to monitor state and local policies and, if necessary, take action to correct them."
Given the charges of overreach leveled against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, speculation about Schneider's appointment to help lead the federal government's oversight of civil liberties is noteworthy.
At first, in an effort to fight the Wuhan pandemic, Americans gave state and local governments wide latitude with regard to civil liberties, but then came the overreach: states that banned gun sales by labeling them non-essential while deeming abortions essential, municipalities that used the excuse of "safety" to crack down on pro-life sidewalk counselors, mayors who wouldn't allow church services of more than 10 people even when people stayed outdoors in their cars, police dispatched to arrest a father playing ball with his family in a deserted public park.
When Michigan's Gov. Whitmer deemed the sale of vegetable seeds as nonessential, people began to worry that she was trying to control the state's food supply.
In emergency or disaster conditions, governors are given broad powers to do such things to protect the health and safety of citizens. But there are limits.
This is where Attorney General Barr and his staff of attorneys step in. When governors "cross the line" and use those broad powers to unnecessarily limit civil liberties, Barr can take them to court on behalf of the American people and stop them.
In an interview with Laura Ingraham broadcast on April 9, Barr said, "Religious liberty is the first liberty. It is the foundation of our republic, and a free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. So anytime that's encroached upon by the government, I'm very, very concerned."
Less than a year after his appointment in February 2019, Barr let the American people know where he stood on the question of religion and public life. His speech to the Law School and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame included the widely quoted observation about the attack on moral values:
First is the force, fervor and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the "progressives," have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.
Barr, who makes no secret of his Catholic faith, including his membership in the Knights of Columbus, is particularly despised by the progressive media. The top three entries from a google search of "William Barr Catholic" are these articles from globally prominent publications.
On Twitter, former government ethics lawyer Walter Schaub called Barr's Notre Dame speech "repugnant."
He went on to tweet, "I'm comfortable talking about faith in public, but he was invited to speak at a law school because he's the attorney general. His job is to defend the First Amendment. But this immoral, unpatriotic borderline monarchist and defender of corruption has other ideas."
At the close of his Notre Dame speech, Barr told his audience, "We must be vigilant to resist efforts by the forces of secularization to drive religious viewpoints from the public square and to impinge upon the free exercise of our faith."
"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," he added.