Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia loves religion. In fact, he loves it so much that he’s willing to make up stuff about the Constitution in order to justify his opinions about it.
Scalia spoke before what was described as a “small crowd” at Archbishop Rummel High School in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie on January 2, where he told those gathered that the constitution favors religion over lack of religion. He told the audience that while the constitution prohibits the government from picking a favorite religion, or a favorite sect, there is nothing in the document that prohibits it from favoring religion over non-religion:
To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from? To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?
He believes that “activist judges” created the idea that the government should be neutral in matters of religion in the 1960s. Remember, this is the same man who was one of five votes to install George W. Bush as president, concurring in a decision that broke with Supreme Court history by declaring that it could not be used as precedent in any other case.
Scalia might want to tread carefully in his comments about religion. Despite his claim that the government can’t favor one sect over another, he is certainly aware that for much of this country’s history, his religion, Roman Catholicism, was looked on with suspicion and distrust by many in the country’s protestant majority. In fact, one of the arguments used against presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was that he was a Catholic. And now, despite the words of Article VI, which prohibit religious tests for public office, we have presidential candidates like Ben Carson saying that a Muslim should not be president.
Scalia’s remarks also included an invocation of the old “God is on our side” claim, which has been used by virtually every nation and leader since the first war was fought. He told the audience:
God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke his name we do him honor. In presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways.
As has been discussed on any number of occasions, the majority of the American founders came from Christian backgrounds (it’s very likely that when Scalia says “religion,” he means “Christianity”, but the Encyclopedia Britannica says that the majority of them were influenced by a philosophy known as “Deism.” Thomas Paine, for example, was a non-Christian deist who referred to Christianity as “a fable.” Deists believed that human experience and reason, not mysticism and religious dogma, are the factors that decide the validity of beliefs.
Keeping religion separate from government has been a pillar of America from the beginning. The famous theologian Roger Williams, who founded the first Baptist congregation in the British colonies, pointed out that churches need the separation to protect them from political corruption. And much more recently, Sandra Day O’Connor, herself a relatively conservative justice appointed by the same conservative president who appointed Scalia, pointed out that the separation has been a positive thing for America:
Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?
Scalia’s comments raise the issue of the nature of the constitution. Should it be interpreted through an 18th century view of the world? That appears to be what Antonin Scalia believes. Or has the constitution survived because it is a “living” document, which can be changed as the needs of the times demand? The fact that the founders put in a system for amending the constitution argues for the latter.
These remarks on religion are just the latest in a series of controversial statements that have been made by the justice. A few weeks ago, he suggested from the bench that maybe black students would be better off attending colleges that didn’t place so many demands on them academically. The 79-year-0ld justice is either speaking his mind without a filter, or he is beginning to slip into dementia.
Here is a video report on Scalia’s comments, via YouTube:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82QSdU2i4jg?rel=0]
Featured image via YouTube screen capture