Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in an address over the weekend that the Constitution does not dictate that the federal government must be neutral between different religions or between religion and no religion at all. He added that God has been good to the United States in the past because Americans have honored Him.
Scalia gave the remarks on Saturday at the Archbishop Rummel [Catholic] High School in a suburb of New Orleans.
“To tell you the truth there is no place for [requiring neutrality regarding religion] 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?”
Scalia also said there is “nothing wrong” with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches.
The justice told the audience that 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,” the Associated Press reported.
George W. Bush, in his address to Congress following 9/11, said, “The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”
“God has been very good to us. That we won the revolution was extraordinary,” Scalia observed to his New Orleans’ crowd. “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,” the justice observed.
“There is nothing wrong with that and do not let anybody tell you that there is anything wrong with that,” he added.
In a dissent he authored in McCreary County v. the ACLU of Kentucky (2005)—a 5-4 ruling against a Ten Commandments display in a courthouse–Scalia noted the “fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself.”
“At the time the Constitution was written, religion was ubiquitous. Scalia noted that Thomas Jefferson, who first invoked the idea of a ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ also penned Virginia’s religious freedom law, founded a university with dedicated religious space and, in writing the Declaration of Independence, regularly invoked God,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (the father of the Constitution) argued that the freedom of religion, in fact, is a God-given right.
In his first Inaugural Address, George Washington spoke in anything but neutral terms about God and His place in American society. “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency…”
“[W]e ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained,” he added.
Justice Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and is the Supreme Court’s longest serving member.