A constitutional law student’s take on Scalia’s recent comments on secularism

A constitutional law student’s take on Scalia’s recent comments on secularism October 4, 2014

So while I’m running for office, I’m also a student at the University of North Texas, earning my BA in Political Science with an emphasis in Public Law. This means my focus of study has been on the judicial system and constitutional law.

I consider myself very knowledgeable of the Supreme Court and the rulings it has passed down over the years. That’s why I was a little dumbstruck but also not all that surprised when I read this piece from JT.

Recently, US Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Texas Supreme Court Justice John Phillip Devine made some very odd comments about the role of religion in our laws and the intent of the Founding Fathers.

Let’s start with the remarks of Justice John Devine, since he’s a fellow Texan.

“How do you react when you hear the Constitution as a living and breathing document?” host Dave Garrison asked Devine.

“Well, it’s just not what the intent of the Founding Fathers was,” Devine replied. “It’s like the Ten Commandments, if we would just stick to those basic principles our nation would be far better off and we would once again be the light on the hill. And unfortunately, the church has gone to sleep, many Americans have gone to sleep and we have allowed those with these progressive ideas to have the White House and almost every facet of government.”

Justice Devine should remember what the Texas Constitution, the document he is supposed to be basing most of his decisions on, says as far as religion goes.

Article One, Section Six of the Texas Bill of Rights says, “No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship.”

Section Seven says, “No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.”

JT had it right when he pointed out how the majority of Ten Commandments conflict with everyday law, and we’re better off having a secular constitution be our laws than the Bible. Just imagine if biblical law was being enforced here in the state of Texas, more so than they already are.

The First Commandment even says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Right off the bat, we’re going to have some problems with the Texas and US constitutions. Freedom of religion is kind of a big deal here, so the idea that our state “shall have no other gods” other than the Abrahamic god will kind of matter to the Hindus, Zoroastrians, Pagans, and atheists of this nation.

According to the Bible itself, those who worship other gods, or break pretty much any of the Ten Commandments, should be put to death. Should we start stoning individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights, Justice Devine?

But I’ve spent enough time on Justice Devine. Let’s move on to bigger fish.

Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portraitJustice Scalia is considered one of the most polarizing and controversial figures ever to sit upon the High Court. It’s not hard to find something he’s said that a lot of people did not like.

According to the Raw Story, “On Wednesday, Scalia told an audience at Colorado Christian University that conservatives’ primary fight was ‘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 non-religion’.”

For this, we have to look to the case of Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), sometimes referred to as “the day God was kicked out of school.”

In the majority opinion written by Justice Thomas Clark, he cited a previous ruling by the Supreme Court from two years prior, where Justice Hugo Black said:

Neither [a State nor the Federal government] can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

Clark concluded his opinion with this (emphasis mine):

The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church, and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality.

Simply to say that the Supreme Court has never ever found that religion should be favored of non-religion or secularism, and in my years studying the law, I don’t remember the Court ever overturning the ruling in Schempp.

Justice Scalia doesn’t appear to understand, or doesn’t appear to care, what the Supreme Court has actually said about religion.

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