Earlier today, speaking at Archbishop Rummel High School in Louisiana, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told the audience that religious neutrality had no basis in the Constitution.
That doesn’t mean one religion can be promoted over another, he explained, but that belief in God can absolutely be promoted over atheism:
He told the audience… that there is “no place” in the country’s constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence.
“To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?” he said. “To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?”
He also said there is “nothing wrong” with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches. He said God has been good to America because Americans have honored him.
I don’t know why someone like me needs to explain this to a Supreme Court justice, but there’s a difference between a President invoking his personal religious beliefs in a speech, and promoting religion through the government. Hell, the Court he sits on made it very clear in 2014 that atheists couldn’t be discriminated when it comes to city council prayers — religious invocations were allowed by law, but atheists were also permitted to deliver secular invocations if that was the case. (Scalia joined the four other Catholic justices in that majority decision.)
It’s not the first time he’s said something like this, though. Speaking at Colorado Christian University in 2014, Scalia dismissed the whole notion of church/state separation while throwing atheism under the bus:
“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,” Justice Scalia said.
“That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way,” Justice Scalia said. “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.”
As many people have said before, the word “religion” appears twice in the Constitution. Both times, it’s preceded by the word “no.” There can be no establishment of religion by the government. It takes a literalist like Scalia to interpret that to mean religion as a whole can be promoted over atheism.
Even if you accept Scalia’s “originalism” theory, it’s hard to believe theistic favoritism is what the nation’s founders intended. They were trying to escape religious persecution; why create a country where religion in any form could run rampant again? Separation of church and state isn’t just cornerstone of our law; it’s good policy, period.
But since Scalia has made it very clear that atheists aren’t going to get a fair shake when it comes to cases of religious neutrality, the right thing to do would be to recuse himself from all relevant church/state separation cases in the future.
(Thanks to Robert for the link. Portions of this article were published earlier)