Hamodia, the “Daily Newspaper of Torah Jewry” recently published an interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
As you might expect, he had a lot of ridiculous things to say about church/state separation:
I have been here for a long time now — 23 years. In that time, I think the Court has become more receptive to the needs of religious practice. We have allowed government practices that favor religion, practices to which, in the 60s and 70s, we were quite hostile. Earlier we weren’t hostile. When I was in elementary school in Queens you were able to get out early on Wednesdays for religious instruction. In the early 1950s the ACLU challenged this as violating the Establishment Clause but William O. Douglas wrote an opinion that said, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being… When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions.”
A decade later the Court changed its mind and adopted the so-called principle of neutrality — which states that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion. This is not an accurate representation of what Americans believe. The Court itself has contradicted that principle a number of times — including the case approving tax exemptions for houses of worship (Walz v. Tax Commission) and cases approving paid chaplains in state and federal legislatures. More recently we have allowed the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Legislature. I think we have been moving back towards what the American Constitution provided.
… Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.
One major problem with all this, though, is that the founders of our country were not Christian in the way politicians are today. Many of them believed in a “god” only in a broad sense. No god answered their prayers or spoke directly to them.
I have a hard time believing the founders would want Ten Commandments monuments placed in public squares or churches getting tax exemptions.
Those of you who are better versed in the law can probably add a lot more to this discussion. Feel free to throw in your thoughts.
(Thanks to Christina for the link!)