By Elaine Magliaro
Antonin Scalia on the Separation of Church and State
Antonin Scalia is our country’s longest-serving Supreme Court Justice. Scalia, a Catholic, was appointed to the highest court in the land by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Earlier this week, Justice Scalia, who is part of the court’s “conservative wing,” talked about the separation of church and state during a speech he gave at Colorado Christian University. According to the Washington Times, Justice Scalia “was preaching to the choir when he told the audience at Colorado Christian University that a battle is underway over whether to allow religion in public life, from referencing God in the Pledge of Allegiance to holding prayers before city hall meetings.”
Jordan Steffen Steffen of The Denver Post reported that Scalia said, “No principle of democracy is more fundamental than what has become known as the separation of church and state.” Steffen wrote that Scalia “lamented about the need for a balance in the separation of church and state. But he also criticized what he said was a growing effort to quash religion in politics and stressed the importance of religious freedom.” Scalia said, “There are those who would have us believe that the separation of church and state must mean that God must be driven out of the public forum. That is simply not what our Constitution has ever meant.”
Steffen added that Justice Scalia also warned his audience that a religious preoccupation with the government “will destroy the church.”
During the course of his speech, Scalia said, “I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion.” He added, “That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way. And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.” He continued, “We do him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.”
Shadee Ashtari (Huffington Post) wrote that Scalia “knocked secular qualms over the role of religion in the public sphere as ‘utterly absurd,’ arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion — not freedom from it.” Ashtari noted that Scalia joined in the high court’s “majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, which held that the New York town could continue opening legislative sessions with sectarian prayers.” She added that since the ruling in that case, Scalia has used it “to press for the approval of public prayers in schools, legislatures and courtrooms.” She reported that Scalia had also criticized the Supreme Court “for declining to review Elmbrook School District v. John Doe, a case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that a public school district’s decision to conduct graduation ceremonies in a church violated the Establishment Clause.”
Ashtaree said that Scalia also criticized fellow justices “who champion a more evolving, ‘living’ view of the Constitution — a judicial philosophy he has previously said only an ‘idiot’ could believe.”
A Constitutional originalist, Scalia claimed that the “biggest danger lies with judges who interpret the Constitution as a malleable document that changes with the times.” He said, “Our [the court‘s] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligion. That’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution.”
Scalia Talks about the Devil
The following is a bit off topic—but still on the subject of Antonin Scalia and religion. Last October, New York Magazine published an interview that the conservative justice had with Jennifer Senior. During the interview, Senior asked Scalia if he had seen any evidence of the Devil lately. Scalia responded, “You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
Scalia surmised that the Devil wasn’t so visible these days because he’s “smart.” Scalia said what the devil appeared to up to now was “getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.”
Excerpt from Senior’s interview with Justice Antonin Scalia:
That has really painful implications for atheists. Are you sure that’s the Devil’s work?
I didn’t say atheists are the Devil’s work.
Well, you’re saying the Devil is persuading people to not believe in God. Couldn’t there be other reasons to not believe?
Well, there certainly can be other reasons. But it certainly favors the Devil’s desires. I mean, c’mon, that’s the explanation for why there’s not demonic possession all over the place. That always puzzled me. What happened to the Devil, you know? He used to be all over the place. He used to be all over the New Testament.
What happened to him?
He just got wilier.
He got wilier.
Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?
You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.
Scalia defends keeping God, religion in public square (Washington Times)
Holding The Religious Right To Its Own Standard (Right Wing Watch)
In Conversation: Antonin Scalia: On the eve of a new Supreme Court session, the firebrand justice discusses gay rights and media echo chambers, Seinfeld and the Devil, and how much he cares about his intellectual legacy (“I don’t”). (New York Magazine)