July 10, 2002 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Scalia gives divinity school students a peek at what his activism is really about. I can't say it any better than he does so I'll quote: "The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible." Of course we knew Scalia detested democracy on 12/12/2000 with his decision that infamous day but now he admits favoritism to theocracy.
posted by nofundy (42 comments total)
"my views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases";

Hahahahahaha. Yeah right.
posted by skallas at 12:14 PM on July 10, 2002

If you haven't registered, here's the link to take you directly to the page.
posted by geoff. at 12:25 PM on July 10, 2002

didn't work for me, geoff.
posted by moz at 12:31 PM on July 10, 2002

I feel sick.
posted by rushmc at 12:31 PM on July 10, 2002

Sorry about the NY Times link. Try username: metafilter pw: metafilter .
posted by nofundy at 12:38 PM on July 10, 2002

i'd like to read the whole speech. What I really don't get from the article is how Scalia can be so anti-government if he believes that the state is "God's minister." Also, some of the quotations sounded like they might have been strung together a little bit creatively.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that Scalia is anything other than a whackjob (although a disturbingly smart one), just that I didn't really get a good sense of his views from that article.
posted by boltman at 12:45 PM on July 10, 2002

Damn. I wish he'd retire.

Oh wait, then we'd get a Bush appointee.

posted by RylandDotNet at 12:49 PM on July 10, 2002

Since the article's not so hot, and the original post is a bit heavy handed, I'm going to take this into a small tangent, so indulge me, if you will.

I don't understand how these church/state lines get blurred among people of faith.

I understand the power of faith, and its role in the lives of US citizens. I fully understand many of our laws descended from religious texts, and I acknowledge they can be a great start at figuring out right from wrong.

What I don't understand is this, and please, people of faith, help me out here: Why would the state ever want to be in the position of supporting one religion over another? Doesn't "under god" in a gov't statement exclude some religions? Doesn't having public money used in private school vouchers mean Catholic schools get money from Baptists and that Fundamental Christians' tax money went to Jewish schools?

Why create the situation in the first place?

Frequently, when I have a disagreement with someone of faith regarding religious and state matters, my problem isn't necessarily the mention, encouragement, or endorsement of faith in the general sense, it's the endorsement of one, or few faiths over all else.

I don't understand why most church/state problems ever get as far as they do simply based on this. In most cases, all faiths cannot be included in federal funds, afterschool bible classes, state college graduation prayer ceremonies, or state-lead services, so I usually go for the option of not sanctioning them so it doesn't become a problem.

Every man and woman is (ideally) treated equally in this country, all I'm wondering is, why aren't religions? And if they can't be, why engage in state matters and religious matters in the first place?
posted by mathowie at 1:02 PM on July 10, 2002

Gaaargh...... When the Hell did we start moving toward Theocracy!? (Rhetorical question - no specific answer needed)

Outside of a few liberal commentators, I have seen absolutely no meaningful denouncements of the recent love affair between church and state. That Lieberman would call for a constitutional amendment to preserve the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, that Dubya would assert that people with "common sense" understand our rights come from God, and this from Scalia grrr....

I shouldn't be surprised, but damn, where's a red-hot, charismatic, vocal supporter of the separation of church and state when you need one?

I'd love to see an Atheist run for president. Unfortunately, it appears they would be running the risk of grievous bodily harm, based on the experience of Michael Newdow, the atheist who brought the pledge issue to court. Gotta love hypocritcal zealots.
posted by kokogiak at 1:03 PM on July 10, 2002

In his talk in Chicago, Mr. Scalia noted with relief that the Catholic Church's recent opinion that the death penalty was very rarely permissible was not "binding" on Catholics. If it had been, Mr. Scalia said, this teaching would have led the church to "effectively urge the retirement of Catholics from public life," given that the federal government and 38 states "believe the death penalty is sometimes just."

Anyone know how to petition the Catholic church to make something binding? At last, this is a crystal clear route to getting Scalia to remove himself from the court! All possible efforts must be undertaken.
posted by rusty at 1:03 PM on July 10, 2002

where's a red-hot, charismatic, vocal supporter of the separation of church and state when you need one?

Well, there's Jesse Ventura, but he's retiring from politics.
posted by rushmc at 1:08 PM on July 10, 2002

My thoughts exactly Matt, and I wonder further why people roll their eyes when one suggests substituting "Jehovah" or "Mohammed" for "God" in the pledge, or on US Currency. It's a look of "come on, you know that's silly." Why? Why would that honestly be any different, publicly honoring one deity over another?
posted by kokogiak at 1:09 PM on July 10, 2002

I like your angle there rusty!

Just for you boltman:

The entire boring transcript, including all the times Scalia says: "of course this doesn't impact how I make decisions on the bench."
posted by nofundy at 1:13 PM on July 10, 2002

Ha - Jesse Ventura. Good point rushmc, beggars can't be choosers.
posted by kokogiak at 1:13 PM on July 10, 2002

About the whole theocracy thing, I think quite a lot of people have it wrong, unofrtunately. I'm certainly no fan of the fundies currently running rampant in the US government -- far from it. However, "Separation of church and state" doesn't mean what a lot of people seem to think it means.

It does not mean that the government should never mention religion, or should not credit any supreme being with the providence of authority, or any such thing. What it means is that the leader of the government should not be the leader of a religion as well. Only this, and nothing more, as Poe would say.

The Church/State wall was intended to prevent the kind of thng that happened in England, where the King was also the head of the COE, and was able to use government power to compel membership in this religion. It has been a common thread for millennia that in many governments, the supreme ruler is also the head of the state religion, and the two are inextricably intertwined.

In America, the idea was to simply prevent there from being a state religion that was enforceable by supposedly secular authority. The intention was to keep there from being some kind of requirement that you must belong to a particular religion in order to be an american. As long as George W. isn't also the leader of a religion, and no one is compelled to be part of whatever his religion is, then church and state are separate.

The flip side of the church/state separation coin is freedom of religion, which applies to everyone, including public or government figures. They're free to believe whatever they want, and say so as often as they want, as long as they're not requiring a particular religious belief in US law or citizenship requirements. The recent pledge of allegiance flap is kind of a tricky point, because it's entirely possible that you could argue that being required to say the pledge (and thus, in a sense, pledge belief or subservience to one God which may not be yours) is infringing on your right to religious freedom.

However, it would be hard to make a coherent argument that the pledge itself violates separation of church and state, as it does not in any way require any religious belief to be a citizen, nor does it enshrine any government figure as the leader of a state mandated religion. The problem isn't the pledge itself from a church/state angle, but being forced to say it, from a freedom of religion angle.

Some commenters here also haven't apparently noticed that Scalia and Bush are members of two deeply different religions. If anything, both of them professing such strong personal beliefs for different theologies simply underscores the fact that church and state are quite separate. If they weren't, one of them would be a heretic, and fair game for burning, or at the very least ejection from the theocracy. But we don't have a theocracy, so it's quite acceptable for a Catholic and a Protestant to both occupy powerful positions in the government.
posted by rusty at 1:20 PM on July 10, 2002

Let's keep in mind that "faith" and "religion" are not the same thing. Scalia's sin is to want to force government to fit the shape of his specific religion: Roman Catholicism. Most people are able to keep their "faith" between themselves and God. It's "religion" that people are always trying to shove down each other's throats.
posted by Faze at 1:30 PM on July 10, 2002

I like some of your points rusty - especially the part about Bush and Scalia being of different faiths. It's easy (and bad form) for those of us non-Christians to lump Christians together in one big bunch.

I don't believe the pledge violates anything, as it stands, but the requirement, as you state does cause problems. Pat Buchanan asserted on some show the other day that any kid who wanted to could refuse to say the pledge in class. That wasn't my experience, as I got in a lot of trouble for refusing when I was in grade school. (Refusing for the reason that I didn't know what it meant - so felt uneasy saying it, not because of the God thing). Plus I imagine the peer pressure and desire to please the teacher would make it really difficult to do.

One last thing (tangential again). In all honesty, I'm having a hard time interpreting this part of the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

Does this mean 1)"congress shall make no law about an establishment (existing entity) of religion", 2)"congress shall make no law establishing (creating) a religion", or 3)"congress shall make no law regarding religion whatsoever"? Or is this still open to debate?
posted by kokogiak at 1:33 PM on July 10, 2002

Matt: about the school vouchers thing. The key point is that no religion is favored or excluded (including, of course, "no religion", or secular schools). Using public funds to send kids to religious schools does not violate church/state separation, provided that the state is not favoring any particular religion. The idea that there has to be an air gap between all religious activity and all state activity is ludicrous. By that logic, we would have to prevent all religious people from voting, since they could (and probably would!) factor their religious belief into their voting choices.

But we don't do that, of course, because as long as no religion is excluded from voting, there is no theocracy.

I'm an atheist. I don't like religion in general. But I do realize that my right to be an atheist in the US is exactly the same as anyone else's right to be a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Zoroastrian, or an Animist. Choosing not to be religious is, legally, the same as choosing a religion, and I want my freedom to choose protected. I think it would be just as bad to go off the deep end and, in effect, establish atheism as the official US state religion.
posted by rusty at 1:36 PM on July 10, 2002

kokogiak: I read it as "Congress shall make no law which specifically applies to a particular religion, nor shall it make any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion in general." Of course, all Constitutional law is always up for debate, and IANAL. I think the idea was to say that there won't be any laws which specifically target some religion. Like "No Catholic shall eat meat on Friday" would be out of line. But "No American shall eat meat on Friday" would not, presumably, run afoul of this provision, provided your religion doesn't require eating meat on Friday, in which this law would prohibit the free exercise thereof.

And if my example seems ludicrous, feel free to replace it with "Papists shall be beheaded in a public square" or "Kabbalists shall be imprisoned for their natural life," or "Jews shall be required to wear a gold Star of David visible at all times on their person." This is the kind of thing we wanted to avoid.
posted by rusty at 1:43 PM on July 10, 2002

Some stuff on respecting the establishment of religion.
posted by Ty Webb at 1:46 PM on July 10, 2002

The intention was to keep there from being some kind of requirement that you must belong to a particular religion in order to be an american.

Not quite. If we're talking about getting rid of the British model, then it was the requirement that you had to belong to a particular religion in order to hold certain offices. At least at the time of the American secession, there was basic freedom to practise religion in whatever denomination you chose, but all-bar-one would prevent you going to university, or taking high office.

kologiak: the reference is by comparison with 'the Church of England, by law established'. Which is sort of circular, but with respect to the Church of England, it means legal definitions of what you need to believe before you're licensed to preach.
posted by riviera at 1:47 PM on July 10, 2002

Ooh. Found a good resource for interpreting the first amendment at [via google]. It looks like the answer to my question is 'all of the above' based on the earlier drafts, and an earlier bill written by Thomas Jefferson for Virginia. Interestingly, Jefferson comes across as a remarkably tolerant devout Christian. Many times he gives glory and praise to Almighty God, but insists that men have no right to interfere with free will. Pretty progressive thinking there.
posted by kokogiak at 1:48 PM on July 10, 2002

riviera: Thank you for the clarification. My Revolution-era British history is pretty fuzzy, so the details were necessarily vague. :-)
posted by rusty at 1:49 PM on July 10, 2002

[Why create the situation in the first place?]

Matt : I certainly can't speak for others of faith but let me try and explain why it matters to me.

If my rights are given to me by a piece of paper, or at the whim of the government they can be taken away from me by a piece of paper or at the whim of the government. If, however, they are "endowed by (my) creator" they can only be taken away by that same creator" or at least the needed burden to justify them being taken away is extremely high.

I hope that helps explain it a bit.
posted by revbrian at 1:57 PM on July 10, 2002

i think that using current political power to swing US laws towards favoring Christianity--lets face it, they don't really mean anything else--and in using the weight of the majority voice it sets a very bad precedent. What happens when the demographics of the US change? The majority in power, in fighting to make things the way they think Everyone should live, set the example that if you have enough numbers you get your way. One nation under god? one nation under allah? one nation under sponge bob? As the % of [generalizations] white christian males plummets, will they give up power to the next group or pass more ashcroftian wetdreams as law?

bad bad strategy, seems to indicate very short-term goals.

and, from the viewpoint of an atheist, yes, a catholic and a protestant and a kabbalist are all basically in the same section of the philosophy supermarket. I don't want god-given rights, i don't believe the Afterlife(tm) is more important than this one, i want people to have and to give rights and privileges based on agreements as thinking humans. Theocracy only works for the god-ridden.

[nothing against sponge bob]
posted by th3ph17 at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2002

here is a facinating article from the New York Times discussing new scholarship about the origins and history of the establishment and free exercise clauses. It suggests that the KKK has more to do with the current doctrine of seperation of church and state than the ACLU.
posted by boltman at 2:05 PM on July 10, 2002

Thanks boltman, that is indeed a fascinating bit of perspective on American history.
posted by Zurishaddai at 2:37 PM on July 10, 2002

Revbrian: your rights were given you by men who wrote on a piece of paper. They may, if you want to believe it, have had the authority of God etc but they decided that was what was wanted on the piece of paper. And the piece of paper can be taken away to be was slavery, which was allowed before another piece of paper changed that too. Anbd separate but equal was allowed till changed by a piece of paper. Now, if you want to believe that all these changes had the authority of god behind, so be it...but don't discount pieces of paper. After all, you are a citizen and can prove it with a piece of paper; and you earn money, printed on pieces of paper etc etc
posted by Postroad at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2002

revbrian: rights are not given by government but are part of man himself/herself. Nice summary here for those who slept through civics. No need to extrapolate needless traditional superstitions and ancient cosmologies.
The government of the United States is the result of a revolution in thought. It was founded on the principle that all persons have equal rights, and that government is responsible to, and derives its powers from, a free people. To Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers, these ideas were not just a passing intellectual fad, but a recognition of something inherent in the nature of man itself. The very foundation of government, therefore, rests on the inalienable rights of the people and of each individual composing their mass. The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson, is the fundamental statement of what government is and from what source it derives its powers. It begins with a summary of those inalienable rights that are the self-evident basis for a free society and for all the powers to protect those rights that a just government exercises.
posted by skallas at 3:01 PM on July 10, 2002

You are missing the entire point. The people who are most likely to take away my rights are the people most likely to not do so because they believe they are from God, not man.

Personally, I would like government to remind fundamentalists that God gave us our rights at every opportunity possible.
posted by revbrian at 3:16 PM on July 10, 2002

The people who are most likely to take away my rights are the people most likely to not do so because they believe they are from God, not man.

Bullshit. The conservative moral majority religious element is the one that would love to do away with due process, free speech, women's rights, minority's rights, etc.
posted by skallas at 3:20 PM on July 10, 2002

a friend of mine is pretty religious, he says, "I like God, its just i don't like any of the people that say they work for him."

skallas is right on...and lets look at why, shall we?

-you believe god gives you authority. this makes the following the most important:

a)civil rights
b)freedom of speech
c)women voting, owning property, being lesbians, etc..
d)doing what God wants

D. right? Because, life here doesn't matter. It is just another test before you get to heaven, paradise, valhalla, disneyland, whatever. And if people have to give up some of their evil, secular humanist ways--then so be it, its for their own good.
posted by th3ph17 at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2002

Or, th3p17, as Bill Hicks used to say: "I like Jesus and Elvis just's their fans I can't stand."

As to one of the Supremes being for a theocracy, I'm sad to say that I'm not terribly surprised, based on how Scalia has voted/judged since he was installed. His toss-off comments about how his personal views don't impact his judging aren't fooling anyone.

What surprises me more, is that we haven't seen a stronger push for a theocracy yet. During the Reagan/Bush the First years, in the midst the heyday of the televangelist and the rising of the "moral majority" I could have sworn that we were headed towards seeing a churchified nation.
posted by dejah420 at 6:49 PM on July 10, 2002

All right. Enough of this "endowed by their creator with certain rights..." talk. Nobody seems to understand this. Frankly, I don't even know what people mean when they say "my rights come from God", as if there was some edict from heaven declaring that they're allowed to apply for a parade permit. The idea of natural rights (rights "from the creator") is a philosophical argument that comes from Locke's theory of natural law.

The argument, as originally formulated by Locke, was not that God had granted unto people a certain set of legalistic rights. Rather, Locke argued that "in the state of nature" (it works with or without a creator, for what it's worth) all "men" (I'll stick to Locke's language; understand it to be inclusive, however) are independent and equal. This means that naked in the woods we're all basically the same. This natural condition establishes a "natural law" from which the principle of rights can be deduced. Basically, political systems should work to preserve the natural state of man, and this can be accomplished by securing men their natural rights. From Locke's Second Treatise of Government:

The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

This argument is made essentially to counter old ideas about the divine right of kings. From a theological point of view, it's probably more closely related to the idea of free will than to anything else (note, however, that there really isn't any political philosophy associated with the idea of free will).

Scalia's "divine authority behind government" is something else entirely. It's more closely related to the Puritan concept of the City on the Hill (and the divine right of kings) than anything in the Founders' political philosophy. Frankly, I don't know what the hell Scalia is talking about. Government has no divine authority, and anyone telling you otherwise is trying to set up an authoritarian theocracy.

One more thing: I happen to think that Locke's theory of natural law is pretty useless. The line between humans and nature is artificial; we are part of nature, as are our activities and the impacts thereof. There is no perfect natural state in which all humans are equal: it's a philosophical fiction. Nevertheless, it's helpful to try to understand these things before we try to argue about them.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:55 PM on July 10, 2002 [1 favorite]

th3ph17 makes a good point on tactics: demographic curves suggest that the majority religion in the US 100 years from now will be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I wonder how many people outside that church would be pushing for this sort of theocracy if they realized that it could mean that coffee would be outlawed.
posted by rosvicl at 6:59 PM on July 10, 2002

and here i am freshly escaped out of a 6th generation mormon family. Damn.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:17 PM on July 10, 2002


The only problem with saying that Locke's theory works without god is that there is absolutely no reason for an 'atheist' to assume that a 'state of nature' is a good model for anything. I mean why should people have the same rights as people had when they were running around naked in the woods? The only argument you can make is "that's the way god made us". So people who believe in Locke's 'natural laws' therefore must believe in some kind of higher role of nature. They could be deists, Buddhist (I think), Hindu whatever, but they must believe in some kind of morality of nature.

Actually, it's kind of like Confucian Daoism (AKA Taoism).

Well, either that or they haven't really spent that much time thinking about it.


I believe rights come from society, or from 'power'.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 PM on July 10, 2002

Why should I NOT have absolute and total rights within the limits of my natural ability? If I want to run around naked or steal your food or kill you or whatever who's to stop me? If you are strong enough, you may be able to stop me, but beyond that there is no governance on my ability to do whatever the hell I want to do. That is the natural state of my rights, and I'm equal to you and everybody else in that.

Now, I recognize I can get more through societal cooperation then as the ultimate Nietzschean superman, so I voluntarily abdicate some of my rights to officials I've elected. Others have done the same. As a result, even if you aren't strong enough to stop me killing you or taking your things, society could through its collective strength lock me up or kill me or whatever if I don't play nice. Still, it isn't society's place or function to grant or restrict rights. It's my place to give up my rights. It is only self-interest that leads to me having anything but absolute rights. It ain't God.
posted by willnot at 9:57 PM on July 10, 2002

There's still some misunderstanding (after this has been discussed so well and thoroughly on MeFi) regarding separation of church and state versus freedom to worship.
For review (there may be a test.)

First, the founding fathers were NOT "Christians" (deists yes) so stop saying that!

Second, the Bill of Rights were established for one reason, to prevent the tyranny of the majority over the minority. Keep that in mind.

Third, the line about separation of church and state reads (1st Amendment, first line, and there's a reason why): "Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion.."

Fourth, In 1954 Congress passed a law inserting the line "under God" into the nation's Pledge of Allegiance. See where this is a violation yet? If not look closely again at the First Amendment and then consider the actions of Congress in 1954. They didn't say "under Allah" or "under a creator."

Fifth, organized religion generally sucks. Organized religion does more damage to the ability of persons to lead a spiritual life than any governments ever could. Just because your religious leader doesn't like the laws established by our founders doesn't make them something that can be ignored or spun to political favor. Organized religion is about power, not faith. That's why Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the Pope and countless others are wealthy when their Bible clearly tells them to give it away and to care for the poor instead of spending millions on lawyers defending pervs or on political ambitions and goals of their own.
posted by nofundy at 5:11 AM on July 11, 2002

First, the founding fathers were NOT "Christians" (deists yes) so stop saying that!

Careful, I once made roughly the same statement here on Metafilter but was convincingly told otherwise.
posted by homunculus at 10:01 AM on July 11, 2002

Thank you homunculus for the correction. I wish to amend the statement to "most prominent founding fathers were deists ."
posted by nofundy at 10:28 AM on July 11, 2002

nofundy: before "under God" was added to the pledge, the Supreme Court said that no one, including schoolchildren, can be forced by the government to recite the pledge. How can Congress's addition of a couple of words to a pledge that local schools are at complete liberty to use or not use during the school day and students are at complete liberty to say or not say if the schools decide to use it possibly be construed as Congress "establishing" religion?

Does the enacting clause of the constitution violate the 1st amendment because it uses the phrase "Year of Our Lord"? It definitely invokes and implicitly endorses a specific religious viewpoint. If so, I suppose you could argue the entire constitution is invalid, since it was never properly enacted.

This view that "establishing" = use of the word "God" by a public official has got to go, if only for the amount of frivolous litigation that it is bound to produce.

Also, I vehemently disagree with your characterization of organized religion. Neither Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberson nor the Pope represent my views nor do they represent the views of most Christians. Saying organized religion is bad because it produced Jerry Falwell is like saying that organized government is bad because it produced Hitler. Organized religion also produced Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Dorothy Day to name a few. Some of us are invovled in organized religion not because we can't think for ourselves but because we crave fellowship with other believers and because we find value in the traditions and accumulated wisdom of past generations of believers. I can assure you that it is not "about power" for the vast majority of us. Sweeping generalizations of that sort are both offensive and suggest, at best, willful ignorance on your part.
posted by boltman at 11:00 PM on July 11, 2002

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