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In first speech since leaving office, Barr decries ‘militantly secularist government-run schools’

Former AG says radical curriculums of "secular-progressive madrassas" may violate Constitution, calls for new era of school choice vouchers.

Updated: May 20, 2021 - 4:30pm

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Former Attorney General William Barr emerged from a public hiatus on Thursday, decrying the rise of "militantly secularist government-run schools" and suggesting new curricula steeped in progressive ideology may violate the U.S. Constitution.

In his first speech since leaving office in December, Barr suggested that a new era of school choice vouchers may be parents' best defense against public school curricula he suggested were anti-religious.  

"Now, in many places in the country, the state of our public schools is becoming an absurdity that can scarcely be believed," the former Trump attorney general said in prepared remarks accepting a religious freedom award from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

"While an astonishing number of public schools fail to produce students proficient in basic reading and math, they spare no effort or expense in their drive to instill a radical secular belief system that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago," he added.

He cited the example of an Iowa public school district's transgenderism study that declared that "everyone gets to choose if they are a girl, or a boy, or both, or neither, or someone else, and no one else gets to choose for them."

"One thing we know this is not established science," he argued. "It is a moral, psychological and metaphysical dogma of the new progressive orthodoxy."

You can listen to the full speech here:

Audio file

Barr suggested some of the new woke curricula pushed by the left might infringe religious and speech freedoms and impose a secular theology that violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause prohibiting government from imposing religious beliefs.

"Now, it seems to me that for the government to get into the business through public school indoctrination of students and secular belief systems that are directly contrary to religion of the students, the beliefs of the students and the families raises fundamental constitutional problems," he said. "It certainly raises a free exercise problem. As the Supreme Court has recognized there's nothing more fundamental as a part of religious liberty and a part of our basic liberties, then the right of parents to pass along religion to their children"

"I think things have also reached a point where the Establishment Clause is implicated," Barr continued. "When we are no longer talking about simply stripping religion out of school curriculum, but now talking about indoctrination into an affirmative belief and value system — a new credo — resting on materialist metaphysics and taking the place of religion, then the question is whether this involves establishment of a religion."

Barr said parents and political leaders should no longer stand idly by as schools fail in producing proficient students, urging them to re-embrace the school choice movement that gained popularity among conservatives and some Democrats in the 1990s.

"The time has come to admit that the approach of giving militantly secularist, government-run schools a monopoly over publicly funded education has become a disaster," he said. "It has deformed and impoverished the very nature of the educational enterprise, first by purging it of any moral or spiritual dimension, and then by trying to substitute for religion an irreconcilable rival value system.

"Parents wishing to opt out from the government's secular-progressive madrassas are subject to a harsh penalty in the form of private school tuition that most cannot afford. As a result, our public schools have inevitably become cockpits for a vicious, winner-take-all culture war over the moral formation of our children.

"It doesn't have to be this way. Public funding of education does not require that instruction must be delivered by means of government-operated schools. The alternative is to have public funds travel with each student, allowing the student and the parents to choose the school," he said.