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Antonin Scalia - Supreme Court Evangelist
January 15, 2003
By Patrick Ennis

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a crowd at a Religious Freedom Day event in Fredericksburg, Va., on Monday, Jan. 13, that courts have gone too far to keep religion out of public schools and other forums. In typical evangelist fashion and sounding for all the world like theocratic pundit and fellow right-wing extremist Pat Buchanan, Scalia fed the crowd a mostly fact-free diet of propaganda calculated to mislead, and then to anger. Predictably, he offered little proof of this alleged secular onslaught by the judicial branch beyond last summer's wildly controversial decision by a three judge panel of the federal appeals court in San Francisco that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Apparently, he neglected to mention the tellingly unpopular decision was almost immediately stayed ordered not to take effect by the same panel of judges, pending a review by the full appeals court, which is virtually certain to overturn it if only for the sake of political correctness. He also failed to mention that members of both houses of congress, in their never-ending quest for popularity at the expense of principle, quickly passed resolutions in support of The Pledge, including the religious reference, with near unanimity. Nor did he reference the growing number of states which, in the wake of Sept.11, 2001, now require that the Ten Commandments be hung on the walls of public schools.

The chamber in which Scalia and his fellow Supreme Court jurists sit also displays a copy of the Ten Commandments on its wall. U.S. currency still features the phrase "In God We Trust". SCOTUS has upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate, on religious grounds, against gays and atheists. Prayer in public schools is still (and always was) legal when done during lunch or free periods and not faculty led, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that religious organizations such as the Good News Club have the same rights to use school facilities after school hours as any other group. The constitutionality of the official state motto of Ohio, "With God, All Things Are Possible", has been affirmed, and just last year, Scalia and colleagues upheld the legality of private school vouchers from the government which can be used to help parents pay tuition at religious schools.

A casual, unbiased observer might get the impression that religion in public life, far from being under assault, is on the offensive. So if Scalia believes that courts have "gone too far" to keep religion out of public life, one has to wonder just what it would take to satisfy him and his ilk.

Scalia, referring to the lone protestor at the event, an intrepid man silently holding a sign promoting church/state separation, told the crowd "I have no problem with that philosophy being adopted democratically. If the gentleman holding the sign would persuade all of you of that, then we could eliminate 'under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance. That could be democratically done."

All of you? Not just a majority? Apparently, in Scalia's definition of democracy, a thing is only to be enacted if support is universal. No simple "majority rules" allowed. Perhaps this helps explain his vote on those Florida presidential ballot recounts in Dec. 2000. Of course, all of this ignores the larger point that one of the original, primary purposes of the Constitution was to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority, something that ought to be common knowledge for every member of the Supreme Court, the sole purpose of which is to interpret said Constitution.

The tactic, exaggerating or even inventing a threat within the minds of the faithful and then exploiting the fear and anger it generates, is hardly new; it a staple of religious activism, used to devastating effect in modern times by both the Christian Right and militant Islamists. The surprise is that in this age of information overload, with an American population better educated than any in history, such baseless fear mongering can still be so effective. But the proof is in the pudding how many Americans still think that their children are not only being taught sexual positions and techniques in health class, but also being issued publicly procured condoms there in order to facilitate "safe sex"? How many think their children will be sent home from school if they show up wearing a t-shirt that says "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?", or for reading a bible during a lunch break? Ignorance is dangerous, precisely because it is so easy to exploit.

Regardless of how you feel about the validity of church/state separation, it should be obvious that one cannot be both a Supreme Court Justice and a proselytizing evangelist. Scalia needs to choose one or the other as a public persona, and hang the other in the closet. Judicial evangelism is the worst kind of judicial activism. The ghosts of Sept. 11 should serve as a constant reminder of the dangers of official religious intolerance. If Scalia wishes to live under the boot of theocracy, he should consider moving to Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 al-Qaeda hijackers.


Patrick Ennis: Articulating the views of the secular, liberal, Midwestern working class because, frankly, somebody has to (and nobody else is).

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