Scalia’s poor state/church legacy (in quotes) by PJ Slinger

By PJ Slinger

On Feb. 13, when conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, it shook up the makeup of the court and created what is turning into a contentious fight to find his successor.

Over the years, FFRF took issue with many of Scalia’s decisions and proclamations, whether they were with the majority opinion or not. FFRF Co-Presidents Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, along with FFRF co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor, even protested Scalia’s appearance during a stop at the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2001.

The following quotes from Scalia during his tenure on the bench reveal his feelings about state/church separation issues and other religion-based topics.

On religious displays on government property

“I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence regarding holiday displays has come to require scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary. But interior decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs.” — Dissent in Lee v. Weisman (1992)
On religious faith in public life

“Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.” — speech to Knights of Columbus Baton Rouge Council 969, (Jan. 29, 2005)

On the Establishment Clause

“The Founding Fathers would be astonished to find that the Establishment Clause — which they designed to ensure that no one powerful sect or combination of sects could use political or governmental power to punish dissenters — has been employed to prohibit the characteristically and admirably American accommodation of the religious practices (or more precisely, cultural peculiarities) of a tiny minority sect. I, however, am not surprised. Once this court has abandoned text and history as guides, nothing prevents it from calling religious toleration the establishment of religion.” — Board of Ed. of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet (1994)

On the morality of the death penalty

It seems to me that the more Christian a country is, the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and has least support in the church-going United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: It is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life in exchange for the next? The Christian attitude is reflected in the words Robert Bolt’s play has Thomas More saying to the headsman: ‘Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.’ For the nonbeliever, on the other hand, to deprive a man of his life is to end his existence.” — God’s Justice and Ours, 123 First Things (May 2002)
On belief in the devil

“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the devil! It’s in the gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the devil! Most of mankind has believed in the devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the devil. — Jennifer Senior, “In Conversation: Antonin Scalia,” New York
(Oct. 6, 2013)

On religious (and nonreligious) neutrality

“To tell you the truth, there is no place for that [religious neutrality] in our constitutional tradition. To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another, but you can’t favor religion over nonreligion? . . . 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 no even invoke his name, we do him honor.” — speaking to students at a Louisiana Catholic high school (Jan. 2, 2016)

On the Pledge of Allegiance

“We do him [God] honor in our Pledge of Allegiance, in all our public ceremonies. There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.” — speaking to students at Colorado Christian University (Oct. 1, 2014)

On prayer at graduation ceremonies

“To deprive our society of that important unifying mechanism in order to spare the nonbeliever what seems to me the minimal inconvenience of standing or even sitting in respectful nonparticipation is as senseless in policy as it is unsupported in law.” — Lee v. Weisman (1992)

On the Lemon test, which requires laws to have a secular purpose

“Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last term, was, to be sure, not fully six feet under: Our decision in Lee v. Weisman conspicuously avoided using the supposed test but also declined the invitation to repudiate it. Over the years, however, no fewer than five of the currently sitting justices have, in their own opinions, personally driven pencils through the creature’s heart (the author of today’s opinion repeatedly), and a sixth has joined an opinion doing so. The secret of the Lemon test’s survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will. Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him. — Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District (1993)

Read Annie Laurie Gaylor’s blog, “Why Scalia was a ‘fugitive from justice’ ” at

Freedom From Religion Foundation