Scalia, Justice Antonin

Scalia, Justice Antonin

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Apr. 24, 1996)

Justice Scalia: "Fools for Christ’s Sake"

On April 9, 1996, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spoke to students at the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. The Baptist school had invited the conservative Roman Catholic jurist to campus for a prayer breakfast.

Judge Scalia brought down the wrath of the Washington Post and other media for the things he said. One might have thought he repudiated the U.S. Constitution or some basic principle of American jurisprudence. What did he do?

Scalia argued that religious faith is not irrational, only unpopular with people who hold certain world-views. Two days after Easter, he referred to the fact that some people have always rejected miracles in general and the resurrection of Jesus in particular. "The ‘wise’ do not investigate such silliness," he said with obvious sarcasm.

"One can be sophisticated and believe in God," insisted Justice Scalia. "Reason and intellect are not to be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned." What a marvelous affirmation! His claim is unequivocally biblical and in the tradition of Christian apologists across the centuries — from Clement of Rome to Thomas Aquinas to Sir William Ramsay to John R.W. Stott. It is what Paul said in Romans 1:18ff.

Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State immediately fired off a response: "This clearly undermines public confidence in his objectivity regarding religious contoversies." Really? So do speeches on education, abortion, free enterprise, defendants’ rights, and the legal profession undermine public confidence in the objectivity of justices who stake out ground on those issues?

The issue is not "Do members of the Supreme Court hold or express personal views on religion/abortion/economics?" but "Are members of the Supreme Court able to be fair with persons whose views are different from their personal beliefs"?

Christians advocate legal tolerance for points of view other than their own. Thus we support laws that uphold a minority’s right to embrace, practice, and spread its views — Buddhist and atheist, Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness. We also promote social tolerance for everyone. That is, we advocate respect and fair treatment for all people — no matter what they believe or disbelieve.

What Justice Scalia was insisting upon is that Christians have no reason to offer intellectual tolerance to physicalism, relativism, and atheism. A mind open to the fair hearing of other points of view with respect and civility is praiseworthy. A mind so open that it can accommodate contradictions is too confused to distinguish truth from error, good from evil.

If one holds a Christian world-view, shouldn’t he keep that belief private? It is impossible, for while faith is certainly personal to each believer, it can never be held as a purely private matter. Jesus demands that those who believe on him confess their faith (Matt.10:32-33). Furthermore, Christian faith requires that one base his thoughts, decisions, and actions — including the demand of fair treatment to people of other points of view (cf. Matt.7:12) — on the authority of Jesus as expressed in his example and teaching (2 Cor.10:5).

As reported in USAToday ("Justice Scalia says religion, reason do mix," April 10, 1996, p. 1A), the point of Justice Scalia’s speech seems to have been that devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. "We are fools for Christ’s sake," he said. "We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world."

His thesis is certainly not new, for his very language is borrowed from the New Testament (1 Cor.1:18—2:5). His public boldness and the outcry it produced simply constitute one of the most recent confirmations of it.

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