WASHINGTON — In a wide-ranging speech on the importance of Christianity in public life, Attorney General William P. Barr said on Wednesday that religious news publications and broadcasters were essential checks on a mainstream media that has consolidated far too much power.
Mr. Barr, speaking at the National Religious Broadcasters annual convention in Nashville, called the mainstream press “remarkably monolithic in viewpoint” and said that “an increasing number of journalists see themselves less as objective reporters of the facts and more as agents of change.”
“We live at a time when religion — long an essential pillar of our society — is being driven from the public square,” said Mr. Barr, a devoted Catholic. “Thank God we have the National Religious Broadcasters to counter that effort.”
Mr. Barr’s criticism came on the same day that President Trump sued The New York Times for libel over an opinion piece that asserted that his campaign “had an overarching deal” with Russia during the 2016 election.
His speech also echoed other robust defenses of Christianity in politics and education that he has delivered during his first year as attorney general. In October, he said that “the forces of secularism” had unleashed “immense suffering, wreckage and misery” as they sought to destroy religious life in America.
Under his leadership, the Justice Department supported parents in Maine who sued in an effort to force the state to include religious schools in its tuition-funding program. And the department applauded a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the Trump administration’s ability to deprive clinics that provide abortion referrals of federal funds.
Former Justice Department officials and lawyers have publicly criticized Mr. Barr’s remarks about the role of religion in America, and current department employees have quietly grumbled about them. But his unapologetic calls for more faith in public life have made him a hero of the religious right, which has long hoped that the federal government would steer the country away from cultural changes like secularism and greater acceptance of L.G.B.T. people.
The ardent criticism and praise that Mr. Barr has garnered also makes him indicative of the deep divide between those who see religion as a core American value and the heart of the country’s democracy and those who believe that placing religion at the center of law enforcement, policymaking and politics violates the nation’s tenet to separate church from state.
“Moral values must be based on authority independent of man’s will. In other words, they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being,” Mr. Barr said on Wednesday. “Men are far likelier to obey rules that come from God than to abide by the abstract outcome of an ad hoc utilitarian calculus.”
Mr. Barr said that Christian news organizations had shown that the press could serve higher ends, including “the safeguarding of faith as well as the cultivation of the classical virtues of the mind and heart” — values that he said were essential to preventing American democracy from unraveling.
By contrast, Mr. Barr said that the mainstream news media now had an “unprecedented ability to mobilize a broad segment of the public on a national scale,” a power that he said jeopardized the press’s ability to be a check on “the tyranny of the majority.”
Mr. Barr also argued that the separation of church and state did not require the wholesale repudiation of religion from the public square, and he denounced the creation of a national “culture of disbelief.”
He reiterated past assertions that progressive institutions were trying to undermine organized religion, and said that the nation’s move away from the church had made politics more polarized.
Mr. Barr did not discuss the support that Mr. Trump has among evangelical Christian groups, who have made his re-election a top priority.
While many Christian groups have backed the president, the magazine Christianity Today created an uproar among Christians when it published an op-ed article that supported his impeachment and removal from office. Evangelical leaders attacked the magazine for expressing that opinion.
He also did not discuss the extreme, politically polarizing positions that some Christian groups have taken on issues such as abortion, which have led to public altercations with women seeking abortions and sometimes lethal attacks on the doctors who provide them.