US justice chief blasts 'militant secularists'
Speaking at the annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, where he was honored with a high layperson's award, Barr blamed an alleged decline in morality and a rise of centralized government on the spread of secularism.
Over the past 50 years, he said, "traditional morality has eroded, and secularists have often succeeded not only in eliminating religion from schools and the public square, but in replacing it with new orthodoxies that are actively hostile to religion."
The result, he said, was "striking increases in urban violence, drug abuse and broken families."
Barr, who before and while serving as attorney general has supported legal cases defending religious groups accused of equal rights violations, said the United States was founded on deep religious principles.
He said many people misunderstand the constitutional provision for "separation of church and state," and described a less-religious society as self-centered and immoral.
"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," he said.
The speech came during a heated election battle between Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, in which Trump's campaign has sought to portray Democrats as anti-religion.
It also came ahead of Trump's nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, with many expecting him to choose Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative Catholic who critics allege could apply her religious beliefs to the law.
Barr, a lay leader in Washington Catholic circles, was awarded the Christifideles Laici Award at the prayer breakfast Wednesday for his service to the church.
But some Catholic figures criticized the award, noting Barr had reinstated the federal death penalty as attorney general and has signed off on six executions in three months, including one on Tuesday night.
Catholic sister Helen Prejean, an activist against capital punishment, protested the planned award earlier this month.
"What is Christlike about a Catholic believer using his discretionary power as Attorney General to undertake a series of speedy federal executions?" she wrote on Twitter.
"In contrast, those in power before him for 17 years chose not to bseek death," she said.
"The Church vigorously opposes government killing without exception."