(CNSNews.com) - Attorney General William Barr said there are emergency situations, including war and pandemics, where "liberties have to be restricted," but he said he "will be keeping a careful eye on that."
Stay-at-home orders issued by many states have shut down religious gatherings at Easter, the holiest time of the year for Christians.
"I think religious liberty is the first liberty," Barr told Fox News's Laura Ingraham:
It is the foundation of our republic and a free society depends upon a vibrant religious life among the people. So anytime that's encroached upon by the government, I'm very, very concerned.
As a technical matter, as you know, in facing an emergency, the government can put whatever restrictions the government is willing to put on everybody else, like athletic events or concerts and so forth. They can technically do it to religion as well -- as long as they're not singling out religion, as long as it's really necessary,
So I would hate to see restrictions on religion continue longer than they are strictly necessary. And also I think we -- when this 30-day period ends, I think we have to consider alternative ways of protecting people.
Barr agreed that the American people have been patient so far with government efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but he also said there are limits;
"I think we have to be very careful to make sure that this is, you know, that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified and there are not alternative ways of protecting people.
"And I think, you know, when his 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 President Trump is right to leave much of the decision-making to the states:
"One of the things that I think the president has done very well here is to use the strength of the federal system where certain decisions should be made in Washington perhaps, but also allowing each state to adapt to the situation that confronts it and make their own choices.
“And that's a form of protecting liberty. The federal system is a form of protecting liberty. To have the government closest to the people make those decisions, so I think we do have that protection."
But Barr warned against the "slippery slope" of "declaring everything an emergency" to impose "extraordinary steps."
"We are going to keep an eye on all these actions that restrict people's liberty,” he said. “But by the same token, in a situation that is essentially a kin to wartime, there are -- you know, the government can impose certain limitations."