Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Justice Scalia: Religion and the Law

Justice Scalia has recently made some remarks in a speech that would certainly upset some regarding the role of religion in the public square. Here is the Christianity Today article, and the Jerusalem Post article. A couple of quotes:

"We are fools for Christ's sake … We must pray for the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of religious lawyers.

Sometimes that takes a pretty thick skin-and I can only imagine what he faces in his position.

He told the crowd, "There is something wrong with the principle of neutrality." Neutrality as envisioned by the founding fathers "is not neutrality between religiousness and nonreligiousness; it is between denominations of religion."

This sentiment is obviously not PC, but it is, I think, correct. Take these statements about religion:

1. There is no God.
2. Even if there is a God, He/She/They/It do not belong in the public square.
3. God exists.
4. The public square needs to take God into consideration.

One might argue that statements 1 and 2 are “public” and reasonable while statements 3 and 4 are “private” and belong in the home or the church. What is it that distinguishes the two sets? Why are two considered public and the others private?

Typically the answer is that making the second two statements public would force a point of view or a morality on the rest of the populace. But this is certainly no different than making the first two public. Statements 1 and 2 come with a metaphysical, political, social and moral point of view, and if they are made the standards for social interaction, they then force a certain point of view on the populace.

Sometimes the argument is made that the public square should be free from religious convictions so all can be free to believe what they want. Statements 1 and 2, however, are not free from religious conviction, and as the slew of recent ACLU lawsuits make clear, they are statements which force a certain kind of religious practice upon believers. A public position of “there is no God” is not a moderating position for “there is a God”-it is its opposite.

In the sense that all four statements are propositions about religious matters and that they carry with them certain political, religious, social, and ethical points of view, they are no different. They certainly differ on what they assert about these matters, but it is a commonly accepted fallacy that the first two do not contain religious and ethical convictions.


Dory said...

You make an excellent point. Christians for too long have accepted the notion that claims that God is relevant to law, education, history, science, public policy, etc., are religious, while claims that God is irrelevant to all these things are not religious. These are competing religious claims, plain and simple. The question is not whether or not religious values will be imposed as law, the question is which religious values will be imposed as law.

Anonymous said...

Wow, strawmans and equivocations and false dichotomies - oh my!