Scalia, God and the Constitution
by Bill Lockwood
Visiting a suburb of New Orleans this month Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience that though it was that the United States was founded without an official “established church,” it was never intended to be “neutral” toward religion itself. It is “absurd,” said Scalia, to think the Constitution bans the government from supporting religion.
More than that. There is “no place” for radical secularism in our constitutional tradition, he said. “To be sure, you can’t favor one denomination over another but can’t favor religion over non-religion?” [emp. added]
Scalia noted that favoring religion was common practice in the United States until the 1960’s when “activist judges” began imposing their own ideas. Atheists should not try, per the judge, to “cram” secularism “down the throats of an American people that has always honored God on the pretext that the Constitution requires it.”
Justice Scalia is exactly right in this interpretation of the Constitution and the place of religion. I would, however, add that it is not merely “religion” which has a place in our society, but Christianity itself. Benjamin Morris, in his magnum opus work, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the Unites States, summarizes the Founders’ intention: Christianity is the principle and all-pervading element, the deepest and most solid foundation, of all our civil institutions. It is the religion of the people—the national religion; but we have neither an established church nor an established religion.
John Jay, one of the authors of the Federalist Papers referred to this as a “Christian Nation” and Roger Sherman wrote to one of his acquaintances in 1790 pointing out that “his faith in the new republic was largely because he felt it was founded upon Christianity as he understood it.” Similar sentiments from the Founding generation could be added almost endlessly.
Justice Joseph Story, who spent 34 years on the Supreme Court and founded Harvard Law School even went so far as to remark that concept of “neutrality” in religious matters, to which modern society goosesteps and Scalia criticizes, “would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation” had it been suggested in early America.
What then is the meaning of the First Amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”? “Establishment of religion” simply refers to “National denomination” in the sense of an official State Church supported by taxes. “Congress” singles out the “federal government.” The Federal Government was to establish no National Denomination. Remembering that both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison encouraged future generations to interpret the Constitution according to its original intent, and that that ALONE is the “legitimate Constitution,” how do we know that the forbidding of a National Denomination by the Federal Government is the meaning of the First Amendment?
George Mason, the father of the Bill of Rights, commented that “no particular sect or society of Christians ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.” Madison himself commented upon the First Amendment: “…nor shall any national religion be established.” In the Annals of Congress (June 8, 1789 to September 25, 1789) is noted this: “August 15, 1789: Mr. Peter Sylvester of New York had some doubts … He feared it [First Amendment] might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether.” Well might he fear, knowing the onslaught of atheists and secularists throughout history to deny simple truths!
In response to Sylvester, Elbridge Gerry suggested in Congress that the First Amendment would better read, “[N]o religious doctrine shall be established by law.” But that was not quite broad enough to meet the Founders’ intention. Fisher Aimes, who authored the final version of the Amendment, offered this: “Congress will not make any law establishing any religious denomination.” One version even added the words “in preference to others” to the clause “religious denomination.” The final draft simply reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion …” It is crystal clear what these great minds desired.
Capitalizing on ignorance of the people plus animus to Christianity, modernists which fill the press as well as Congress wish us to be satisfied that our Constitution demands the government to be “neutral” between atheism and theism, between Christianity and Islam. Nonsense. Justice Scalia is correct. Legally speaking, in the context of the Constitution, there is no place for “secularism.”