With Support of Barr, the University Abandons its Values

The University of Notre Dame lands in the national news for a variety of reasons, but the picture painted this past weekend was certainly far from flattering after the attorney general paid a visit. The mere idea of his presence on campus was controversial before he arrived and drew protests before he began to speak. Many agree that William Barr does not fulfill his responsibility to represent the United States in legal matters, but rather defends the president unequivocally. His podium came solely from his title, not because he possessed any merit deserving of an invitation. He espouses the theory of the unitary executive that refrains from checking the presidency, which is precisely why Barr was Trump’s pick for attorney general. Barr believes that the president has the final say and should be investigated under very few circumstances, much like a monarchy or authoritarian regime, and in doing so he fails to do his job and investigate any of the vast claims brought against Trump and his administration.

In a similar vein, during his remarks at Notre Dame, Barr also decided to share his view that Catholic tradition is the only way to achieve moral integrity. He slammed secular society while speaking at Notre Dame’s law school on Friday, October 11, blaming a lack of religious values for issues such as drug use, mental illness and violence. Many perceived his words as a direct threat against religious freedom as he venerated Christianity and condemned non-religious individuals. This should be concerning in a nation built on the idea of freedom to practice any faith or none at all, and Barr again reflected the president’s own narrow view of acceptable religious tradition. His words directly endanger our very democracy, and his commentary is far from academic in nature; he used his podium at the university to propagate his own right-wing ideals. No evidence exists to support any of the claims he made on Friday. We would not feel the same about Barr’s talk if he blamed Catholics for these issues, but we are content to stand by him as a university when he blames non-Christians. Arguably, anyone could blame the Catholic Church for sheltering countless child abusers and rapists. The lack of commentary on Barr’s affront to democracy and religious freedom is unacceptable behavior from a renowned institution.

Furthermore, contrary to Barr’s statements, many moral people are not religious, and the opposite is also quite true. Barr argued in his 1992 report The Case for More Incarceration that more people should serve time in prison. Catholic teaching, however, requires otherwise; we are called to visit the imprisoned, not to send more people behind bars. Barr may identify as Catholic, but he certainly does not uphold the full moral code of Catholicism. His stance also perpetuates bad policy; a 2011 study demonstrated that prison increases the risk of recidivism in the United States. Barr’s system proves a detriment to the lives of many and costs the nation billions in taxpayer revenue that could be otherwise distributed to moral causes, such as affordable housing, healthcare or food banks. Barr does not stand by much of his supposed Catholic identity, and it is frankly an insult to all of us that Notre Dame invited him to speak given his history of atrocious moral and professional behavior. 

Barr is neither a model Catholic nor a model lawyer. If the university wants someone to speak during the USC game weekend about morality, Catholicism, modern society and policy, why not invite Father Greg Boyle, a southern Californian who founded Homeboy Industries to rehabilitate former gang members; or Sister Simone Campbell, founder of Nuns on the Bus that tours the nation to discuss humane immigration policy, women’s rights and healthcare among other issues? Inviting speakers of all viewpoints is essential. Former white, male Republican senators who served one term are better advertised than speakers such as Alan Page who is a Notre Dame alum, decorated pro-footballer and former justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Page was the first African American to serve on the state’s supreme court and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Page is also a proponent of racial equity and the Page Education Foundation which actively supports youths of color through mentoring and financial assistance, asking that they give back through community service. Former Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake received less press upon his visit to campus, and led a historic career in the senate where he stood by his moral compass and advocated for bipartisanship when he became the minority within his own party. Senator Flake presents another example of an objectively moral and successful person in law and legislation. Asking individuals such as Barr to speak does not reflect well on our university. If someone is invited to address an audience at Notre Dame, they should be competent in either their career or their moral compass, and Bill Barr can claim neither.

Images 1 and 3 courtesy of The Daily Caller. Image 2 courtesy of The South Bend Tribune.