Religion and Government: Refuting Antonin Scalia


Religion, Government, and Antonin
* This article was published in the King’s College Crown newspaper today *

Justin Vacula

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently had an interview with a newspaper named Hamodia in which he said, “Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.”

This statement by Scalia, in my opinion, is very alarming. I believe that he is misrepresenting the Establishment Clause that states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that the government will not establish an official religion or favor a specific religion.

Scalia, in 2005, also made comments regarding the Ten Commandments on government property, “ I think the message it sends is that law is—and our institutions come from God. And if you don’t think it conveys that message, I just think you’re kidding yourself.” This is also more, if not equally alarming. Our government derives its authority from the people, not a religion or a deity.

Recent debacles have been occurring regularly in the news. Constant arguments regarding the legitimacy of the phrases, “In God We Trust” and the display of the Ten Commandments on government property will probably never end until they are, if ever, removed. We, as Americans, refer to the United States Constitution for political guidance… not religious symbols or beliefs like the Ten Commandments, the Wiccan Rede, or the Pillars of Islam.

Thomas Jefferson uttered this speech as a proclamation to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

In her book titled Freedom Under Seige, Madalyn Murray O’Hair cited Thomas Paine, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams and, of course, Thomas Jefferson, as early American Deists, people who believe that a non-specific deity created the universe but is no longer active in human affairs.. A key idea of the United States government is that we are not a nation that supports a particular religion.

John Adams, in article eleven in the Treaty of Tripoli stated the following, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

President Obama, in 2008 said the following… “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation, at least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. […] Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concern into universal rather than religion specific values. […] It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. […] To base our policy making on such [religious] commitments would be a dangerous thing.

I believe that Scalia ought to be careful with his remarks and stop misrepresenting the ideals and foundations of the United States. Similar to what President Obama said, we are a very diverse nation of diverse individuals. All United States citizens are free to worship whatever or whoever they would like: The Flying Spaghetti Monster, Thor, Poseidon, Jesus, Krishna, Allah, or nothing. Our freedoms from and of religion are very important and must be embraced in order to maintain our individual freedoms. If someone would like to follow precepts of a certain religion he/she may, but precepts or ideas ought not, in my opinion, be the basis of lawmaking decisions or be displayed on governmental property; there are private churches, private schools, and other private institutions for that. Religion has no place whatsoever in government. We would be enraged if any government official started to speak about The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and base policy decisions on this book; this is the way we should view the place of any religion in governmental affairs. Thomas Jefferson and our Founding Fathers were wonderful thinkers who were well ahead of their times.

According to The American Religious Identification of 2008, 15% of the American population do not identify with any religion, 76% identify as Christians, and the other 9% are comprised of other religious denominations. America may be, by population majority, a nation of Christians, but we are certainly not a “Christian Nation.” The government ought to continue its “neutrality policy” as Justice Scalia describes, but the government ought not be “One Nation Under the Beliefs of Scalia.”

Justin Vacula

Justin Vacula hosts the Stoic Philosophy Podcast; serves as co-organizer and spokesperson for the Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) Freethought Society; and has hosted monthly Stoic Philosophy discussion groups for the Humanist Association of Greater Philadelphia. He has appeared on and hosted various radio shows and podcasts; participated in formal debates and discussions; was a guest speaker for college-level courses; was featured in local, national, and international news; and has been invited to speak at various national, local, and statewide events. Vacula received bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Psychology, a minor in Professional Writing, and the distinguished W.A. Kilburn Memorial Award for Philosophy from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently living in the Scranton, PA area attending Marywood University's graduate-level Mental Health Counseling program and has worked with the Arc of Luzerne County's Transition to Community Employment program as a teacher's assistant and job coach alongside adult learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He also plays poker; volunteers as a member of the website and media team for the Greyhawk Reborn Dungeons & Dragons campaign while playing at events in the Eastern United States; and enjoys metal music.