Some of My Best Friends Are Roman Catholic – Part II

Roman Catholics were only given sanctuary in this country through the glorious, magnanimous vision of tolerance advanced by Protestants, the founders of this country, starting with the Pilgrims, those outlaws who broke away from that other high-ceremony faith, the Church of England, whose faith created the intellectual nexus for the U.S. Constitution.

It was the Puritans, a Protestant sect, and the Calvinist tenets that they brought with them to the New World that informed it.

Calvin’s tenet of the “total depravity of man”, for example, bolstered a wariness of absolute power (later formulated by Lord Acton with the expression “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”) and is precisely the basis of our system of checks and balances. It emphatically did not come from a high-ceremony branch of the Christian faith.

This brief history goes a long way to explain why the word “protest” is so unessential and foreign to a man like Attorney General Barr because the word “protest” is not part of his faith, the Roman Catholic faith, at least not in the same way it is literally built into the (Protest)ant faith.

How else might one explain why at Hillside College a scant few weeks ago in September, he felt “at liberty” to diss the Bill of Rights and suggest that it was a lesser part of the constitution—it is not—and perhaps even expendable. Observe his choice of words below, particularly “more important to securing liberty than the Bill of Rights”. Says, who? And secondly, “the Framers did not think it needed an express enumeration of rights.” Perhaps not, but the thirteen colonies had to ratify the U.S. Constitution to enact it and the colonies only ratified it with the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.

The Attorney General’s point of view is heretical. To place less emphasis on the Bill of Rights ignores the essential fact that amendments have no second-tier status and are immediate, legitimate, and integral components of the Constitution.

The rule of law is the lynchpin of American freedom.  And the critical guarantee of the rule of law comes from the Constitution’s structure of separated powers.  The Framers recognized that by dividing the legislative, executive, and judicial powers— each significant, but each limited—they would minimize the risk of any form of tyranny.  That is the real genius of the Constitution, and it is ultimately more important to securing liberty than the Bill of Rights.  After all, the Bill of Rights is a set of amendments to the original Constitution, which the Framers did not think needed an express enumeration of rights.

To suggest otherwise, especially for an Attorney General, mocks the rule of law which the AG identifies in the same quote as “the lynchpin of American freedom”. The rule of law very certainly means that the entire contents of the Bill of Rights, as much as any other part of the constitution, takes precedence over any ideas a Federal official, the Attorney General especially, might wish to impose in the name of good government. Conventional wisdom credits the Magna Carta as the preeminent legal precedent establishing the rule of law. Conventional wisdom credits the Bill of Rights with enshrining the rule of law, most particularly in the fifth amendment concerning due process.

In particular, we might say that the Magna Carta calls for the rule of law in opposition to the rule of unreasonable men. Furthermore, the rule of law is to be secured by an attachment to the due process of law.

How does our AG reconcile his haughty attitude to the Bill of Rights with his lynchpin remark? You can’t. Attorney General Barr is first and foremost our country’s protector of the Constitution yet he believes in some parts of it more than others. That’s like a baseball umpire saying, “I believe in first base, and I believe in second base, but I really don’t think third base is any way near as important.”

The other issue that our Attorney General has with the Bill of Rights is the issue of “choice”. Not just in the extremely narrow sense of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade but in a sense of choice with vastly broader implications. It is impossible to understand a single thing about this nation without choice. Choice is our national obsession. We were fated to fret about it from the time these words—attributed erroneously to Thomas Jefferson—were first recorded[1]:

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

The late Charlton Heston, actor and NRA president, “From my Cold, Dead Hands”

Thomas Jefferson or not, we all believe in this concept of “eternal vigilance”. We find evidence of it all around us, the extreme zeal with which gun owners react to real and perceived encroachments on the right to bear arms provides one shining example.

The right to vote is arguably our most sacrosanct right. It is all about choice. There is no democracy without it.

Relative to his concern with the same old bogeymen that kept J. Edgar Hoover awake at night (communism, Marxism, terrorism, ism, ism, ism) the attorney general is completely unconcerned with our guarantees to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. This is baffling beyond words. The whole point of our country was to secure these freedoms, the right to free speech, freedom of the press, and protest.

So I’m afraid it really is true, the authoritarian aspect of his Roman Catholic faith blinds him to the virtue of our “sacred” personal freedom rights. There is simply no other way to explain how he could authorize law enforcement officers in riot gear to clear Lafayette Park in advance of President Trump’s photo opportunity (pardon my French but that looked an awful lot like pandering) in front of St. John’s Church. One officer attacked a defenseless journalist close to where the Attorney General would soon witness the President hoist up the Bible.

Choice is also a hellish thing. A perfectly good idea of hell is to stand in the refrigerated aisle of a grocery store and try to decide which carton of orange juice to buy. Or do you always know you want the one with extra calcium and no-pulp?

We engage so passionately in the protection of our freedoms, the mere idea of choice starts to look like a national addiction.

As an addiction, if you accept the hypothesis, it makes the U.S. voting public extraordinarily vulnerable to manipulation. This is a consideration for every voting citizen. The idea that a fixation on choice can and will turn us into useful idiots. 

It is easy to understand why “Obamacare”[2], a word invented to inspire contempt, is frequently spoken of at least by vote-seekers as though the word itself connoted pure evil. Part of that animus, you can bet is that “Obamacare” took away a choice: get on health care or pay a penalty.

The contempt for “Obamacare” highlights the deeply curious oddity of the American obsession with choice. On the one hand, the U.S. voting public acquiesced a long time ago to Federal and state laws which obligate every driver living in the country to purchase automobile insurance. Yet, “Obamacare”, though it has succeeded in reducing the number of persons in the United States who live without coverage in the country today, is reviled. This is the American viscera at work.

The good thing about visceral reactions is that they often play out. As often happens, more Americans will eventually come to regard “Obamacare” more generously, as having succeeded in forcing more individuals to take responsibility for their health, the same way we force motorists to purchase automobile insurance. It is not unreasonable to argue that forcing people to take better care of themselves (so the rest of us don’t have to) is a rational compromise, not so much a capricious abrogation of individual freedom, possibly a reasonable if not great precedent for democracy, especially when democracy itself only improves when voters are physically and mentally fit not just to cast votes but with their vote to make informed and reasoned choices.

[1] “Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty (Spurious Quotation),” accessed October 2, 2020, /site/research-and-collections/eternal-vigilance-price-liberty-spurious-quotation.

[2] Also known as the Affordable Health Care Act