Here’s the Associated Press headline: “Scalia says God is “very good” to US because US honors him, dismisses religious neutrality.”
There are a couple of different issues entangled in the headline. The story brings up some others that just confuse the issue. It tells us that Antonin Scalia is “controversial,” as if this implies something is wrong with his view. Worse, right at the end it tells readers of “comments he made during an affirmative action case, questioning whether some black students would benefit from going to a ‘slower-track school’ instead of Texas’ flagship campus in Austin.” They leave out the rather significant fact that he was questioning whether unqualified blacks were being helped by being admitted to the University anyway.
If we can lead aside such noise, lets deal briefly with the two issues of substance. First, we have the meaning of the First Amendment in its original constitutional context.
He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School 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?”
Well, duh. When the Constitution was ratified many of the states still had official state churches. They obviously did not agree to make their practices illegal. Furthermore, the Christian culture that produced the Constitution is explicitly embedded in the Constitution itself (I’ll leave aside the arguments that it is implicitly present). It is on the end of the document before the signatures. Here is the paragraph that George Washington saw just as he signed his name:
…done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names…
So the Constitution shows no neutrality not only between religion and its absence, but no neutrality between Christianity and other religions. Jesus is invoked as the reigning king of the universe.
Now for the other issue that Scalia raised:
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.
Scalia said during the Sept. 11 attacks he was in Rome at a conference. The next morning, after a speech by President George W. Bush in which he invoked God and asked for his blessing, Scalia said many of the other judges approached him and said they wished their presidents or prime ministers would do the same.
“God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke his name we do him honor. In presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations and in many other ways,” Scalia said.
“There is nothing wrong with that and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that,” he added.
I’m somewhat disappointed with Scalia for part of this. Bush invoked a god that no one but a unitarian, a Freemason, or a liberal version of a Christian, Jew, or Muslim would affirm. After 9-11 the National Cathedral service featured a conglomerate god. You can see the Muslim contribution at 42:30.
Worse, at the first invocation, the Dean of the Cathedral appealed to the “god of Abraham, Mohammad, and father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (36:26). This is not the name of the true god and Scalia should know this.
Still, if we assume he’s being somewhat selective in his memory and saying that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are one God, “has been good to America because Americans have honored him,” how can anyone say he is wrong on the religious issue? What I mean is that a Muslim would disagree with Scalia because he is a Muslim and holds to Islamic beliefs, but Scalia has just as much right to his beliefs as a Muslim has to his. Likewise, an atheist would disagree with Scalia because he doesn’t believe in any God, and a deist would disagree because he does’t think that God is ever good to nations (beyond the original blessing of creation, perhaps). But Scalia has the same First Amendment rights that other faiths and non-faiths have.
Get it through your head. If someone believes in a god at all , he most likely believes that he blesses and watches over his believers (strict deism would be an exception). The only reason to disagree with him is because you don’t hold to the same religion.
You can scream and yell against Scalia’s beliefs, but there is nothing un-American about them.