Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that he believes the American public has misinterpreted the actual meaning of “separation of church and state" during a speech at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast (NCPB).
“Militant secularists have long seized on that slogan as a facile justification for attempting to drive religion from the public square and to exclude religious people from bringing a religious perspective to bear on conversations about the common good,” Barr said during the virtual ceremony that had been postponed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Barr said he believes that “traditional morality” has diminished, to be replaced by people who are “actively hostile” in advocating for the separation of church and state – threatening core principles in the country's democracy.
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The attorney general said there is a direct correlation between the removal of religion from schools and public spaces, and the “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,” Barr said.
Barr used the breakfast to point out recent Supreme Court cases that conservatives seemed a win, including the July ruling that said employers could opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate if they have religious objections to contraceptives.
The decision angered woman’s groups and health organizations in Democratic districts as it could result in the loss of employer provided contraception for thousands of women in the U.S.
Barr was honored during the breakfast with the Christifideles Laici Award, which honors a person the organization believes exemplifies “Selfless and Steadfast Service in the Lord’s Vineyard,” according to the NCPB website. But not everyone was happy with the move.
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Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and noted anti-death penalty advocate, condemned Barr receiving the award.
“At the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo said that AG Barr advances the ‘dignity and worth of every human person,’" Prejean wrote on Twitter. "Catholic teaching says that the death penalty is an ‘attack on the dignity of the person.’ Barr ordered multiple executions."
She added: “Leo also said that Barr is ‘truly a Catholic public servant’ whose faith ‘informs his public service.’ Barr has ordered six executions with at least one more on the calendar. The Catholic Church is unequivocally opposed to the death penalty."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Catholic, also condemned the NCPB’s choice for the award.
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"What would Christ do? We always say that," Pelosi said.
"Well, there's a big difference between what Christ would do and what they're honoring this morning,” she added, while on a virtual Nuns on a Bus Tour rally Wednesday.
The NCPB has previously hosted President George W. Bush and Vice President Mike Pence, and is known to honor conservative lawmakers.