NOTRE DAME, INDIANA — Scarcely a month after U.S. Attorney General William Barr gave a controversial address on religious freedom at the University of Notre Dame Law School, an adjunct professor at the school and Democratic congressional candidate argued that Barr’s remarks were “theologically ill-informed” and also “dangerous to the rule of law within our constitutional republic.”

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Patricia Hackett made her case in McCartan Courtroom, the same cavernous law school auditorium that an invitation-only audience had filled for Barr’s Oct. 11 address, which instantly and nationally sparked intense reactions, both positive and negative.

“I was dismayed when I read his remarks,” Hackett told NCR in her South Bend law office a few days after her Nov. 12 address. A practicing attorney and a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, she is also now, for the second time, seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Congress in Indiana’s 2nd District against a three-term Republican incumbent, Rep. Jackie Walorski.

But it was deeply held values drawn from her education in Catholic theology and the law — not political motivations — that drew her to respond, she said.

“Mr. Barr’s analysis of religious freedom, in my judgment, is inconsistent with his duties as the sitting Attorney General of the United States,” Hackett explained. “And what he said about the Judeo-Christian tradition was theologically and historically inaccurate. I would go so far to say that I have never read or heard remarks from a government official in the United States that were so inaccurate and disturbing.”

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Hackett, who also holds a master’s degree in theology from Notre Dame, also did graduate theology work at the Catholic University of America. The daughter of two attorneys and raised in suburban Detroit, she confessed that after she read Barr’s talk, she felt a persistent nudge, a personal responsibility to “correct the record.” She titled her talk, “Contempt of Grace: The Theological and Legal Error of William Barr’s Understanding of Religious Freedom.”

“I believe in Catholic higher education and we are preparing practitioners of the law here,” she said. “I felt that Attorney General Barr was so incorrect in his presentation regarding the obligations of the law.”

In her own talk, Hackett began by reminding her audience that the duty of any attorney general of the United States is “to defend the religious liberty of all people, Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers alike.” But Barr, she said, appeared to justify “empowering certain religious institutions over the religious freedom and conscience of all Americans, whether religious or non-religious.”

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