Good News at the Law School


.@MarcusCole continues the tradition of strong Catholic leadership as Law School Dean @NotreDame. #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

As Sycamore Trust has often observed, the Notre Dame Law School, with a much stronger Catholic faculty presence than the University’s other schools, is both the most Catholic and one of the best law schools in the country. 

We are pleased to report that its excellence in both respects is mirrored in the appointment of the accomplished scholar Marcus Cole as Dean of the Law School and by a notable address at the school by Attorney General William Barr about religious liberty and the foundational role of religion in American society. 

Former Stanford Professor and Respected Scholar Appointed Dean of The Law School

G. Marcus Cole, previously the William F. Baxter-Visa International Law Professor at Stanford, brings a wealth of experience and deep commitment to the Catholic faith to NDLS. Upon his appointment, Cole said he “always had a lifelong love for Notre Dame and what it stands for” and that it was a place he “always wanted to be.” 

leading scholar of the law and economics of commerce and finance, Cole also serves on the editorial board of the Cato Institute’s Supreme Court Review and the advisory board of the Independent Institute’s Center on Culture and Civil Society

Cole began his term as Dean with a Mass in the Law School reading room, during which his priest-brother delivered the homily. Then he spoke at the Law School’s 150thyear celebration, telling of his upbringing in a Pittsburgh housing project — his two jobs assigned by his mother were working as a paper boy and an altar server at the earliest Mass. He was required to finish both before he and his brother could catch the Sunday rebroadcast of that weekend’s Notre Dame football game. 

We encourage you to watch Dean Cole’s talk here. After viewing it, Dr. Daniel Boland, former Notre Dame faculty member (and Sycamore Trust founding board member emeritus), wrote Sycamore Trust in praise of “the Catholic clarity of [Dean Cole’s] agenda and the sense of deepest gratitude and celebration he expresses for-and-to Our Lady’s University.” 

The Dean’s remarks, Dr. Boland wrote, “brought benign memories” of the days “when our lay and clerical faculty were spiritually involved and actively and openly Catholic in their attitudes and outlooks” and when “the Catholic Mind permeated the campus and filtered into every heart in the ND community.”

Cole’s Defense of Free Speech

Early into his tenure, Cole issued a statement in advance of Attorney General Barr’s talk at Notre Dame, calling upon members of the community to respect all those invited to speak at the Law School who are “responsible for controversial policies” or  “who are known to espouse controversial points of view.” 

“As long as they are here at Notre Dame Law School,” Dean Cole declared, “they are free to say whatever is on their mind within the bounds of law.” 

While his statement was met with a Twitter tirade and protestors appeared on the scene, there was not the sort of threatening disruption that has bedeviled controversial speakers on many other campuses. 

Attorney General Barr Calls Out “Militant Secularists,” Emphasizes Key Role of Religious Liberty

In his talk, the Attorney General spoke eloquently about the indispensable role of religious liberty in our society and its imperiled state  in our time. You will likely have read press accounts of his address, but we urge you to read it here, for it is too rich for adequate summary in news reports or by us in this bulletin. Here are some of Barr’s key points:

For America’s founders, Barr declared, religious liberty was essential to “promote the moral discipline and virtue needed to support free government.” He continued: 

Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us. But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good…In other words, religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.

Yet, according to Barr, the role of religion is imperiled in a society of “militant secularists” who have unceasingly attacked its precepts for the past 50 years. Citing illegitimacy rates, drug overdoses, the breakdown of the family, record levels of depression, and skyrocketing suicide rates, Barr concluded, “The consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.” 

Where to Go From Here?

Barr warned that the faithful cannot “count on the pendulum swinging back,” as the “force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, [and] academia” have launched an “unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

Instead, he said, we must engage at the front line —  our education system. He described how secularists are pushing curricula across the country in public schools to brainwash children on LGBTand transgender issues. Often, there is no opt-out for religious families, and in some cases parents do not even receive a warning that a transgender drag queen will be reading to their Kindergarteners. 

Moreover, secularists try to withhold generally available funds from schools purely on the ground that they are religious. He cited the pending Supreme Court case Montana v. Espinoza Department of Revenue as something that will hopefully bring some relief. 

“We must place greater emphasis on the moral education of our children,” Barr exhorted. “We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing to the next generation our faith and values in full vigor…If ever there was a need for a resurgence of Catholic education – and more generally religiously-affiliated schools – it is today.”

Critics Fume 

Barr’s “brilliant and courageous speech,” as Law School professor Gerard V. Bradley characterized it, triggered a feverish and telling tsunami of criticism from the left. As Bradley observed: 

That so many commentators treated [the speech] as if an Ayatollah had taken over the Justice Department shows how very far elites have dragged our body politic from its moorings.

The hysterical denunciations of Barr and what he said were truly astonishing. He was vilified as 

“a repressed, sanctimonious fundamentalist Catholic,” “a self-right­eous phony,” “a disgrace to his office,” “someone who believes in magic spirits in the sky,” “Bible toting bigot!” “Trump enabler,” “scariest person,” “disturbing,” “disingenuous,” “disgusting.”

And the speech was characterized as 

practically straight out of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ “theocracy based on Opus Dei principles,” “authoritarian boilerplate,” “fanatical,” “the ole’ Catholic Inquisition,” “Constitutional depravity,” “fascism,” and “fanaticism.”

And in the New York Times, which all students now receive daily in their inbox courtesy of student government, columnist Paul Krugman accused Barr of “religious bigotry” with his “pogrom type speech.”

Then there was the bizarre speculation by the retired rabbi chaplain for Yale-New Haven hospital that Barr “gave this anti-LGBTQ speech to chastise Notre Dame for having employed former South Bend Mayor Pete’s Buttigieg’s parents as professors.”

Finally, Patricia Hackett, an adjunct Notre Dame Law School professor and self-described “LGBT candidate for Congress,” who was accorded a law school platform in the best tradition of academic freedom, denounced Barr’s talk as “theologically ill informed” and “dangerous to the rule of law.”

Against this stood an outpouring of praise from persons and organizations who share the Attorney General’s conviction about the importance of religion and religious freedom. Many agreed with prominent Catholic author Phil Lawler that Barr’s talk was“one of the year’s more important public speeches.”

Alumnus and Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bill McGurn also lauded the talk and shared Professor Bradley’s view of the frenzied criticism:

That so many would become unhinged by Mr. Barr’s relatively modest contribution to the genre is highly revealing of the absolutism of secularist opponents determined to marginalize and destroy anyone who dares dissent from their own uncompromising orthodoxy.

Praise Accorded and Deserved

There are few, if any, of the most prominent of the nation’s universities who would host the Attorney General for a speech like this (if for any speech at all). 

As Bill McGurn said: “America can count itself fortunate it still has a university where this can happen.” 

All alumni owe a debt of gratitude to Dean Cole, to Law School professor O. Carter Snead, the Director of the estimable de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and a principal organizer of this important event, and to all others who had a hand in it.


We are pleased to note another praiseworthy key appointment,  that of   Dr. Martijn  Cremers as Dean of  the Mendoza College of Business. Since coming to Notre Dame in 2012 from the faculty of the Yale School of Management Dr. Cremers has established himself as an outstanding student of finance and a gifted teacher committed, in his words, “to connecting the mission of the business school with the Catholic mission of the University. (He is past president of the Notre Dame Chapter of University Faculty for Life.) For an illuminating interview of Dr.Creners, go here.

We’re pleased to welcome again as a bulletin contributor Kate Hardiman (’17), currently a student at Georgetown Law Center and a legal fellow at Cooper & Kirk PLLC after having taught in a Chicago high school for two years in Notre Dame’s ACE program. While at Notre Dame Kate was campus editor of the Irish Rover and wrote for The College Fix and Minding the Campus, and now she free lances for the Washington Examiner on education issues. We look forward to Kate’s continued engagement with Sycamore Trust.

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