"We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world."
Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Supreme Court Justice Atonin Scalla delivered an ardent defense of Christian beliefs and practice against the assaults of secular society on April 9, 1996. Addressing a prayer breakfast in Jackson, Michigan, sponsored by the Southern Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College School of Law's Christian Legal Society, Justice Scalia told the audience that Christians must proclaim their biblical faith and belief in miracles and ignore the scorn of the "worldly wise."
In unusually strong remarks for a Supreme Court justice, Scalia, appointed by President Reagan in 1986 and fourth in seniority among the nine, said the modern world dismisses Christians as fools for holding to their biblical, traditional beliefs. But, "We are fools for Christ's sake," Scalia declared.
Speaking outide of the strictures of a court case and without the burdens of legal jargon, the 60-year old Roman Catholic went on to offer a scathing portrayal of a society that is not merely skeptical but that disparages religious belief and believers, specifically Christians. Using the sarcasm and humor for which he is well known, Justice Scalia facetiously noted that "The worldly wise do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is really quite absurd [to them]." Continuing in the same vein, he added, "So everything from the Easter morning to the Ascension had to be made up by the groveling enthusiasts as part of their plan to get themselves martyred."
"The wise do not investigate such silliness," he said sarcastically. They "do not believe."
"A general belief in God is one thing," Scalia said, but "it is quite another matter to embrace the miracles of the Virgin birth of Christ, His raising the dead and His own ascension from the grave. Yet it is 'irrational' to reject miracles a priori," he argues, echoing G.K. Chesteron and St. Thomas Aquinas. "One can be sophisticated and believe in God. Reason and intellect are not to be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned. What is irrational to reject [is]...the possibility of miracles and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is precisely what the worldly wise do."
Summing up, Justice Scalia declared, "We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world." "We are fools for Christ's sake." The audience of more than 650 persons, responded to Justice Scalia's remarks with a standing ovation.
Some of the attendees said they were surprised but pleased that Scalia was so personally revealing. His comments were refreshing, revealing and out of the ordinary, even for arguably the court's frankest, most publicly confrontational justice. Supreme Court justices typically speak in public about the law, sometimes about politics or culture, but almost never about a sensitive topic such as religion. In his legal opinions, Scalia has vigorously advocated a lower wall of separation between church and state and generally favors a greater accommodation of religion in public life. He favors clergy-led prayer at public school graduations and voted for state funding of some religiously affiliated programs in public schools.
The source of the "fools for Christ" phrase was lost on the Associated Press, as well as the Washington Post and USA Today, which headlined it, however, as front-page news. All three attributed the phrase to Justice Scalia himself. The shocked reporters and editors apparently didn't recognize the quoted biblical reference to the Apostle Paul which has been familiar to believers throughout the centuries. (I Corinthians 4:10) This skewered coverage of Mr. Scalia's private remarks illustrates the very point he was making: the "worldly wise" disparage religious belief and believers.
Justice Scalia's remarks drew fire from Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This clearly undermines public confidence in his objectivity regarding religious controversies," Lynn said. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen found the justice's remarks "jarring" and questioned his competence at giving church-state issues a "fair and reasoned hearing." Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, outlined in a Wall Street Journal editorial page article what we might expect the next time Justice Scalia rules on a church-state issue: "The radical separationists will use the opportunity to relentlessly criticize him for lacking intellectual objectivity. This will take place despite his known reputation for wide learning, penetrating questions during hearings and brilliant court opinions."
"By this 'public confidence' standard," comments Sirico, "people of biblical faith are not to draw on their beliefs when contributing to public affairs, much less are they to aspire to sit on the Supreme Court. Only those who believe nothing at all - except for a doctrinaire attachment to legal positivism and the uses of judicial power - can be truly 'objective.' This view is not just an attack on religious faith, but on reason itself. By this logic, any assertion of the capacity of the human mind to know truth makes the claimant biased."
"This liberal double standard runs rampant," Sirico observes. "When President Clinton said he prayed about the partial-bith abortion ban before vetoing it, the media did not castigate him for bringing his faith to bear on the question. There were no repercussions when liberal clerics from the National Council of Churches prayed with him at the White House to 'give him strength' [to defeat GOP budget proposals] and actually performed the ritual of the 'laying on of hands.' No, faith and belief are perfectly fine so long as the complement the secular liberal agenda. But when someone like Justice Scalia, whose opinions have generally favored a diminished role of the federal government in national life, speaks out on behalf of the credibility of miracles, this cannot be tolerated. To pass the test, religion must serve as a hand-maiden to liberal politics. Mr. Scalia's profession of faith does not."
"Yet, by using Mr. Lynn's own standard of 'public confidence,'" Sirico argues, "Mr. Scalia's speech can only increase people's respect for the Supreme Court's opinions. Opinion polls show that a high percentage of Americans profess belief in God, believe in life after death and in the miraculous. Many also still believe Jesus is fully man and fully God. If we had a Supreme Court filled with people who disregard the possibility that faith can lead to truth, public confidence in the legal system would continue to plummet. St. Paul's remark about himself and the other apostles being 'fools for Christ's sake' was meant to draw the contrast with the haughty and self-satisfied. It was a remark born of humility when faced with God's power over our lives. Contrary to the protests against Justice Scalia's speech," Sirico concludes "a responsible use of judicial reasoning, as well as intellectual objectivity, would seem to require such humility."
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