On June 10 the Catholic Information Center (CIC) in Washington D.C. hosted an event run by the son of Justice Antonin Scalia, Chris, and Ethics and Public Policy Center President Edward Whelan. Both co-edited the book On Faith: Lessons From An American Believer, detailing the personal and professional intersection of faith of Justice Scalia. The book was a collection of Scalia’s Supreme Court opinions on religious liberty cases, reflections by Scalia on his own faith, and lessons for American believers as to what challenges believers face in modern-day, secular America.
The book and the discussion at the CIC focused partly on the personal aspect of Scalia’s faith as a Catholic believer. Chris Scalia gave some humorous, touching, and inspiring tidbits of insight from his perspective as the Justice’s son. The younger Scalia joked that his father, ever since he was a little boy growing up in Brooklyn was never “cool,” that he was always committed to his faith, and to his academics. In a more serious tone, Chris moved on to talk about how seriously his father took Mass and how the Justice and his wife, Maureen, made sure that all nine of their kids went to Mass every Sunday no matter where they were living. Antonin Scalia wanted his children to be immersed in a traditionalist Catholic mass every Sunday. He often relayed the importance of all aspects of a traditional Catholic mass to his children. Chris noted that while the Justice was never one to preach his faith to his children or lecture them he evangelized through his example and his actions as a Catholic, a father, and a husband.
What comes as the most shocking to those who don’t know Scalia’s personal and professional career in detail is that Scalia never let his personal religious beliefs affect his professional case opinions. For example, Whelan talked about how even though Scalia was personally opposed to the Roe case as a Catholic, he opposed it on the bench from an originalist perspective as someone who believed that the decision was constitutionally flawed.
In religious liberty cases, Scalia sided with religious claimants requesting legislative accommodations based on their religious preferences. He did so because of his interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution (Columbo 2017, 438). His protection of these religious claimants was not because he, as a Christian, sided with the religious claimants but because of his originalist interpretation of the text. For more examples on Scalia’s originalist interpretation of the First Amendment religion clauses from an originalist not personal perspective, see cases Holt v. Hobbs (2015), Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores (2014), Cutter v. Wilkinson (2005), etc (Columbo 2017, 438). One can see that he didn’t let his personal belief in Christian traditions and ethics interfere with his work as a Supreme Court justice. In the case of Employment Division v. Smith Scalia dissented from the religious claimant seeking legislative accommodation from a law that banned the use of peyote even though Smith was using the peyote as part of a religious ritual. Because of the very reason that he is an originalist Scalia noted in a speech on page 99-101 of On Faith, that the doctrine of separation of Church and state is a Christian tradition. Unlike the Religious Left, he did not try to scrub the role of religion in the public square. He critically noted that the separation of church and state does not mean that people’s political views/policies cannot be informed by their religious views. He meant that the Government cannot compel people to worship God or establish an official religion. Historically speaking, Scalia noted, secular policies such as abolition had religious justifications.
In his book On Faith Scalia lamented the fact that the doctrine of separation of church and state has become a tool of those who want to scrub all forms of religion from the public sphere. In the chapter, A Nation Under God, in On Faith on page 167 Scalia celebrated “our traditional belief, expressed unashamedly in our national pronouncements and reflected faithfully in our public policies, that we are a nation under God,” in a speech to a group of marines at a prayer breakfast. He so eloquently on page 169-70 commented that throughout our Country’s history we as a nation have always celebrated not a particular religious sect but a belief in God starting with the Founding Fathers. In his job as a Supreme Court justice, Scalia realized the importance of the historical role of religion and belief in God in America. He evangelized, as a Catholic, through his actions but never so much so that his evangelizing detracted from his originalist interpretation of the Constitution. We as Americans could not have been luckier to have a Justice like Antonin Scalia wear a black robe in the most prestigious court in America for thirty years. It is more important now more and ever that more aspiring justices seek the jurisprudence that Scalia once made famous.