Barr Escalates Attacks on LGBTQ Inclusion in Schools

Rhetoric reflects administration’s fixation on religious liberty at expense of queer rights

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Weeks after the Department of Justice (DOJ) defended the firing of an out gay Catholic schoolteacher, US Attorney General William Barr stood in front of law students and railed against states requiring LGBTQ education in schools.

Barr vigorously defended religious liberty — for Christians, at least — as he lectured students from the University of Notre Dame Law School on October 11 about modern-day secularism, saying, “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct.” He further complained that secular views are contributing to drug use and are being imposed on society.

“For example, New Jersey recently passed a law requiring schools to adopt a LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching,” Barr said in the speech, according to WNDU News in South Bend, Indiana.

The lecture was laced with talking points commonly espoused by the far right. Barr referred to what he described as militant “forces of secularism,” adding that he believes “the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has coincided.”

During Barr’s current stint as attorney general, the DOJ has already come under fire for maintaining an anti-LGBTQ culture. Members of DOJ Pride, which represents employees of the department as well as contractors, delivered a letter to Barr in March highlighting the DOJ’s lack of an Equal Employment Opportunity statement in addition to low morale and discrimination against LGBTQ employees.

Barr’s rhetoric marked the latest example of the Trump administra­tion’s tendency to use religious liberty as a shield to justify targeting women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. In September, the DOJ filed a Statement of Interest against a Catholic schoolteacher who is suing the Archdiocese of Indianapolis after he said he was fired due to his sexual orientation. The DOJ responded to his lawsuit by arguing that “secular courts cannot entangle themselves in questions of religious law.”

Other agencies within the administration have also taken aim at LGBTQ rights in schools. In 2017, Secretary of Education Besty DeVos shrugged off the Office for Civil Rights’ investigations of discrimination against LGBTQ students and, in 2018, took things a step further when the Department of Education stopped considering complaints by transgender students experiencing transphobic bathroom policies at their schools.

The administra­tion’s fixation on conservative notions of religious liberty, meanwhile, is also seen in the State Department, which drew wide criticism on October 14 when the front page of the department’s website promoted a speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo entitled “Being a Christian Leader.” Pompeo used the speech to blast abortion rights and blur the lines between church and state by explaining the role religion has played in his life.

The State Department has scaled back its efforts on human rights abroad and instead has focused on advocating for religious rights internationally. The department is also ignoring marriage and immigration laws by opposing the citizenship status of children of bi-national married same-sex couples.

Updated 5:33 pm, October 15, 2019
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