Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday said that what he termed “draconian” social distancing restrictions should be relaxed in about three weeks.
In an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News on “The Ingraham Angle,” Barr also said the Justice Department will be on guard to ensure that temporary measures taken in the last few weeks do not become permanent encroachments on the liberties of American citizens.
“Generally speaking, there are occasions where liberties have to be restricted during certain emergencies such as war,” Barr said. “In this case, a potentially devastating pandemic.
“But they have to be balanced; whatever steps you take have to be balanced against the civil liberties of the American people and it cannot be used as an excuse for broad deprivations of liberty,” he explained. “As things proceed, we’re going to be interested in both what the federal government is imposing and also making sure that that’s justified and also what the states did.”
Barr was asked about both official and unofficial bans on church services at Easter.
Ingraham noted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s insistence that large religious gatherings not take place in his state.
“Religious liberty is the first liberty,” Barr said. “It’s the foundation of our republic, and a free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. Any time that’s encroached upon by the government I’m very, very concerned.”
Although Barr claimed that the government has the authority to include churches in broad restrictions being leveled at all parts of society, he added, “I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they’re strictly necessary.”
Barr said that the end of the current restrictions must be a time of reassessing what is absolutely necessary.
“When this 30-day period ends, I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people,” he said.
Barr said that it is important to ensure that “the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified and there are not alternative ways of protecting people.”
“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,” Barr said.
You can watch the entire interview here:
Pressed by Ingraham about potential church closings that might be imposed locally or by states even after the federal period of restrictions is lifted, Barr said the Justice Department “has seen situations where some jurisdictions have imposed special burdens on religion that they were not also applying to other kinds of gatherings and events. We jawboned the local governments at that point saying they simply couldn’t do that.”
“We’re going to keep an eye on all these actions that restrict people’s religious liberty,” he said, while continuing to defend his claim that in a situation akin to “wartime, the government can impose certain restrictions.”
Barr argued that, while there is a time when government must exercise its authority, that use must be carefully considered.
“There is a power for the government to take extraordinary steps in genuine emergencies,” Barr said. “That obviously creates a slippery slope: What do you call an emergency?
“And I am concerned that we not get into the business of declaring everything an emergency, and then using these kinds of sweeping extraordinary steps,” he concluded.
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