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Scalia's Views on Religious Neutrality Reveal He Is Neutral on Sanity

01/03/2016 08:30 pm ET | Updated Jan 03, 2016
  • Jeff Schweitzer Scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in neurophysiology
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Speaking at a Catholic high school in New Orleans recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said, "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?"

This question is astonishing on many levels, but mostly because it exposes a gross ignorance unbecoming a justice of the Supreme Court. The right not to believe is no less protected by our Constitution than the right to believe in any particular god. If the government cannot favor one religion over another, it cannot favor belief over rationalism. Doing so obviously is in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What part of "establishment of religion" does Scalia not understand? The wording does not discuss the dominance of one religion over another, but the very establishment of any religion.

But Scalia was not done shredding our founding document. He also said in New Orleans that there is "nothing wrong" with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches. "God has been good to America because Americans have honored him." Really? He can interpret god's motivations? He misses the obvious that Iranians believe that Allah has been good to Iran because Iranians have honored Allah. Hindus believe their many gods have blessed India because they have honored their many gods. How is their belief more or less valid than Scalia's about who god favors and why? Is Scalia any different than a televangelist who says we have an earthquake or flood because god is unhappy with gay marriage or Roe v Wade?

With these utterances Scalia is continuing his history of religious extremism. His radicalism seeps out in strange ways. In one case decided in 2010 (Salazar v. Buono) Scalia said he was simply baffled that a Christian cross could be construed to represent Christianity. The case in question is a bit convoluted, but the details are important. A seven-foot cross was erected on Sunrise Rock in 1934 on government-owned land in the Mojave Desert to honor fallen veterans. The metal display has been repaired and replaced many times since, with the latest renovation completed in 1998. A former National Park Service employee, Frank Buono, sued to have the cross removed as an offensive symbol to all non-Christian soldiers and their surviving families. In response to this challenge, Congress offered yet another violation of the Establishment Clause by using sleazy slight-of-hand to circumvent the Constitution. Congress sold a little plot of land on which the cross rests to a veterans group, thereby claiming that the cross no longer stood on federal property. But the transparent ploy of gutting the Constitution by creating an island of private property surrounding by a National Park did not fool the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which ruled the cross had to come down. Our largely Catholic Supreme Court then decided to hear the case.

Justice Scalia explained that he agreed to put this case on the court docket because he was simply baffled that a Christian cross could be construed to represent Christianity. He was puzzled that a cross was not broadly representative of Islam, Judaism or no religion at all. Take a moment and ponder that. His assertion that the cross represents everybody is extraordinarily bizarre, defying even the most basic elements of decency. How horribly offensive to every non-Christian to be told that the cross is a universal symbol representative of all religions. Our Founding Fathers are spinning furiously in their graves right now.

Scalia's views are precisely what our forefathers feared so terribly and worked so diligently to avoid. In addition to ignoring our Bill of Rights, Scalia has abandoned any pretense of logic to support his faith. To demonstrate how terribly sick Scalia's thoughts are, he asked the ridiculous question, "What would you have them erect? Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Muslim half moon and star?" Notice that Scalia did not offer the obvious and imminently more reasonable alternative of erecting the Crescent of Islam in place of the cross. He only suggested the absurd notion of a chimera. He is so utterly blinded by his faith that he could not imagine that anything other than a cross could serve to honor our soldiers. Would Scalia himself allow a Star of David on his grave? If a Christian would not select a Star of David then why on earth would a Jew choose a cross? Yet that is exactly what Scalia proposes. The notion that the cross represents everybody is extraordinarily bizarre, defying even the most basic elements of decency. The idea that the Constitution favors religion or non-religion is downright terrifying.

Scalia sometimes describes himself as a "textualist" interpreter of the Constitution, meaning he divines the meaning of the words in the Constitution as the framers did in writing them. He channels into the minds of Jefferson and Adams; really how else would he have any greater insight into the meaning of those words than any other legal scholar? Actually he is a "spiritualist" interpreter of our founding document, the Carnac of the Supreme Court. Only Scalia knows what the founders really meant; only he can interpret the words accurately, even though he apparently has trouble interpreting his own. In any case, he said that as a textualist his job was easy. "The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state." (In what was to become a pattern, he skipped the issue of heterosexual sodomy, which is also illegal in many of those same states). For a brilliant scholar it is impressive to cram into one sentence so much inanity. Notice that he dismisses any discussion in repealing the death sentence by stating that nothing in the Constitution prevents it. By that logic anything not specifically prohibited is allowed. Well that is exactly true of sodomy as well -- nowhere in the Constitution is sodomy prohibited. By his own logic, just provided to justify his position on the death penalty, requires that he must too support sodomy. But instead of being consistent, he shifts his argument to the states, citing precedent. And that is rich, because no other Justice in modern history has had such disdain for "stare decisis." Scalia cites precedent when it suits his purpose, and rudely dismissed previous rulings when they become inconvenient. Even richer is his appeal to states' rights (implied in his argument) given his willingness to trample over Florida's rights in anointing Bush to the presidency.

For someone supposedly with a keen intellect, Scalia's mind has become a nightmarish olio of jumbled principles packaged with arrogant certainty, which is an extraordinarily dangerous combination. No Justice has been more inconsistent in legal outlook. He is an activist judge who decries judicial activism. He is a strict constructionist who willingly flaunts the will and intent of our founders. He is, in the end, an embarrassment to the history of the Supreme Court. His judicial record is a train wreck, derailing logic and decency. With apologies to Churchill, never has one man done so much to harm so many. In a TV interview, Scalia described his job thusly: "I'm in charge of making the Constitution come out right all the time." By his own criterion, he is a complete, utter failure. He is the epitome of everything that a Justice on the Supreme Court should not be; he is an abomination.

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