Saturday, March 12, 2016

March 12, 2016, column:
Justice Scalia was not silent about his faith
By Mike Haynes
             You would think neither supporters nor detractors of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be surprised at his views on religion and government.
            The devout Catholic talked about both in September 2013 at the massive Stone Chapel on the grounds of the Lanier Theological Library in Houston. The chapel, a replica of a 1,500-year-old church that once stood in Cappadocia, modern-day Turkey, has physical mass that was appropriate for the presence of a Supreme Court justice who had such influence on American society and whose
Stone Chapel at Lanier Theological Library
(Photo by Kathy Haynes)
death this February still hangs heavily over U.S. politics.
            Mark Lanier, the Lubbock native and Houston attorney who built the library and chapel, hosts several speakers a year, mostly Christian scholars. In 2013, he lured Scalia to Texas to address the question, “Is Capitalism or Socialism More Conducive to Christian Virtue?”
            I wasn’t there, but it feels like I was because my wife and I toured the chapel last summer, and video of the 48-minute lecture is available at
            Anyone slightly familiar with the justice knows his answer to the capitalism/socialism question, but some might be surprised at nuances of his reasoning.    
            “The first thing I wish to say about it is that I do not believe it is terribly relevant,” Scalia said. “I do not believe a Christian should choose his form of government on the basis of which would be most conducive to his faith any more than he ought to choose his toothpaste on that basis.”
            Those who think Scalia would have favored a theocracy would be wrong. “A Christian should not support a government that suppresses the faith or one that sanctions the taking of innocent human life,” he said. “But the test of good government … is assuredly not whether it helps you save your soul. Government is not meant for saving souls, but for protecting life and property and assuring the conditions for physical prosperity. Its responsibility is the here, not the hereafter.”
            Scalia pointed out Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (RSV)
            But he said socialism is not as conducive to Christianity as capitalism. “The churches of Europe are empty,” he said. “The most religious country in the West by all standards – belief in God, church membership, church attendance – is that bastion of capitalism least diluted by socialism, the United States.”

Justice Antonin Scalia portrait at Lanier
Theological Library in Houston
(Photo by Mike Haynes)
           Scalia distinguished between government aid and private charity. “No one, not even the most conservative American, argues that there should not be a safety net for our citizens,” he said. “The issue is not whether there should be provision for the poor, but rather the degree to which that provision should be made through the coercive power of the state.
            “Christ said, after all, that you should give YOUR goods to the poor, not that you should force someone else to give his.”
            Scalia said Jesus didn’t preach eliminating hunger, misery or misfortune, but “the need for each individual to love and help the hungry, the miserable and the unfortunate.” The judge believed that when government handles charity, “it deprives individuals of an opportunity for sanctification and deprives the body of Christ of an occasion for the interchange of love among its members.”
            He said the negative consequences extend to those receiving aid. “The governmentalization of charity affects not just the donor, but the recipient. What was once asked as a favor is now demanded as an entitlement,” he said, which “has produced donors without love and recipients without gratitude.”
            He contrasted 19th century charity, which included efforts for “moral uplift,” to modern social workers who legally can’t address a person’s virtue. He lamented the “coldly commercial terminology” in which people in need are called “clients.”
            Scalia said for capitalism to work, traditional Christian virtues are essential. Because people have more freedom under capitalism, they have more opportunity to do evil. “Without widespread practice of such Christian virtues as honesty, self-denial and charity toward others, a capitalist system will be intolerable,” he said.
            “The burden of my remarks is not that a government of the right is more Christlike, only that there is no reason to believe that a government of the left is. I do not think Jesus Christ cares very much what sort of economic or political system we live under.”
            Asked what is the greatest miscarriage of constitutional justice he has seen, Scalia said it’s the recent use of the First Amendment clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
            “It’s the clause that’s always invoked whenever people want to tear down a cross that’s been put up on public land or remove a crèche that’s in the city square or take down the Ten Commandments,” he said.
            Unless something hurts a person, he said, that person has no standing to complain to the
Justice Antonin Scalia signed the guest book Sept. 6, 2013,
at the Lanier Theological Library in Houston.
courts. He believed most lawsuits claiming establishment of religion do not involve actual harm and are “silly cases.” More logical to Scalia were cases in which someone’s free exercise of religion was restricted.
            He certainly exercised his religious rights, including singing in Catholic choirs. A lover of opera, he preferred the formal and traditional. After singing Mozart at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago, he often would attend another service.
            “I would go down the street to Mass and hear some clown strum a guitar and sing, ‘God is love, kumbaya.’”
            This Supreme Court justice surely was not the touchy-feely type. But from his speech in Houston, it’s obvious he had a sense of humor and a hearty faith.