The Orange County Department of Education in California issued a memo in 2018 stating that parents who objected to comprehensive sexual education could not withdraw their children from instruction on gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.
These cases are part of an effort of the "state requiring local public schools to insert themselves into contentious social debates without regard to the religious views of their students or parents," Barr said. "Those families are implicitly told that they should conform or leave."
In other cases, religious schools are being singled out and marginalized simply because of their religious status when they are being considered for public benefits, he said.
Long-standing laws such as Blaine Amendment statutes-once passed in many states as anti-Catholic measures-are now being used to "starve religious schools of generally available funds" such as tax credits to help underprivileged students attend the school of their choice, Barr said, pointing to a Montana case, currently before the Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.
In Indiana, a lawsuit brought by a former teacher at Cathedral Catholic High School is challenging the authority of the Archbishop of Indianapolis to determine the Catholic identity of a school in his archdiocese, Barr said, saying that the situation painted " a disturbing picture."
Barr encouraged Catholics to "do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels," while promising that the Department of Justice would "fight" for religious freedom, "the most cherished of all American liberties."
In 2018, a religious liberty task force was created at the Department of Justice to implement a 2017 religious liberty executive order. Barr said that the task force involves the Solicitor General, the Office of Legal Counsel and others to meet regularly and discuss cases where the Establishment Clause is misapplied or abused by states against people of faith, or where the free exercise of religion is being violated.
In his remarks on Friday, Barr blamed the "erosion" of traditional morality for the subsequent rise in secularism that now threatens religious freedom, and represents a break with the founding values which underpin the American constitutional order.
The Constitution, he said, was created for people who could govern themselves and practice "moral discipline," but in the last several decades there has been a decline in the common understanding and adaptation of Judeo-Christian principles and adherence to the natural law.
"The campaign to destroy the traditional moral order," he said, "I believe has brought with it immense suffering and misery," Barr said, while noting that the rise of secularism had come with an attack on organized religion brought with "force, fervor, and comprehensiveness."