Monday, October 26, 2009

Courting Disaster

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, appointed to protect the Constitution of the United States, seems to have a poor understanding of just what this Constitution says. In discussing the case of the cross erected as a war memorial on federal land in the Mojave Desert, Justice Scalia displayed a frightening sense of ignorance. When told that the cross is a Christian symbol and violates the First Amendment, Justice Scalia said that it was no such thing, adding, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”

Either Justice Scalia is stupid, or he is completely blind to the existence of other religions. I hope it is the latter, but I fear it is the former. I can deal with a Justice who is in fact a Christian Triumphalist seeking to make America into a Christian nation. Eventually he will discover that Christianity isn't monolithic, and those Christians who will be marginalized in Scalia's America will fight back alongside others (religious and secular) to put an end (albeit temporary) to such theocratic insanity.

But if Justice Scalia is simply stupid; if he doesn't understand what a cross is or what the First Amendment stands for, then we have a problem. Why? Because then he represents the majority of Americans and there is little hope for change.

When told that the cross affirms one’s belief in Jesus as Christ, and that Jews, for one, never put the cross on their graves, the justice angrily snapped, “I think that is an outrageous conclusion.” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, appointed to protect the Constitution of the United States, seems to have a poor understanding of just what this Constitution says. In discussing the case of the cross erected as a war memorial on federal land in the Mojave Desert, Justice Scalia displayed a frightening sense of Christian triumphalism. When told that the cross is a Christian symbol and violates the First Amendment, Justice Scalia said that it was no such thing, adding, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”

When told that the cross affirms one’s belief in Jesus as Christ, and that Jews, for one, never put the cross on their graves, the justice angrily snapped, “I think that is an outrageous conclusion.” Obviously Justice Scalia only visits Christian graveyards.

Justice Scalia is on record saying that he believes it is constitutional for the United States government to favor religion, and that the First Amendment does not affirm the government's neutrality toward religion.

Needless to say nonChristians are unhappy with a Supreme Court Justice who is ignorant regarding the First Amendment, but don’t image that all Christians are happy with Justice Scalia either. “America,” a Catholic weekly magazine, accused the justice of reducing the cross "to just a couple of pieces of lumber."

It scares me that a Supreme Court Justice is so ignorant of the First Amendment, one of the truly revolutionary documents in human history, and a foundation stone of American life. Why didn't this come up at his confirmation hearing? How did a man who is so ignorant of our founding principles get to be one of nine people responsible for securing them?

It's simple: he is anti abortion and wants to do away with Roe v. Wade. That is all it takes to be a Supreme Justice in America. You can know nothing else, but if you are anti abortion you're our guy.

Day by day, news story by news story, my faith in America fades. Let us hope that a wise Latina can bring some Constitutional knowledge to the court.

4 comments:

Joan said...

Wow - really scary! Of course, when Scalia was confirmed, the ones who confirmed him were Christian Triumphalists... which every Republican President for a long time has been.

Thank G-d that we have Sotomayor - she at least understands the Constitution, and presented herself as being dedicated to following it.

dtedac said...

Rabbi Rami,
You wondered whether Scalia is stupid or blind to our religious diversity. I would say both are true.

People of good will of all religions hopefully will recognize this as foolishness.

Shalom,
David

AaronHerschel said...

Uh... not to be a stickler for editing, but unless my computer is doing weird things, this post repeats its introduction.

Aside from that, I can't help but wonder if theocratic insanity hasn't reached an odd peak in this country with Justice Scalia's decision. After all, ideology is at its most hegemonicly powerful when it is invisible. Scalia's argument--while insulting to believers and nonbelievers alike--nevertheless suggests that in the minds of some Americans Christianity has become so ubiquitous as to have acquired the status of natural law. Frightening indeed.

AaronHerschel said...

So I just read another article on this topic at huffingtonpost, and I realized that Scalia's thinking is much more interesting than I'd first supposed. To see why, though, we need the full exchange. Here is the relevant section as described and quoted in the Huffington blog:

"The following rather remarkable exchange between Justice Scalia and ACLU lawyer Peter J. Eliasberg during oral argument this week in the case of Salazar v. Buono, which deals with the constitutionality under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause of the display in the Mojave National Preserve of an eight-foot-high Christian cross, originally erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars as a memorial to soldiers killed in military service.

This exchange followed a passing observation by Mr. Eliasberg to the effect that the cross honored Christians rather than "all of the people for fought for America in World War I.

JUSTICE SCALIA: The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war? Is that -- is that --
MR. ELIASBERG: I believe that's actually correct.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Where does it say that?

MR. ELIASBERG: It doesn't say that, but a cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins, and I believe that's why the Jewish war veterans --

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's erected as a war memorial. I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. It's the -- the cross is the -- is the most common symbol of -- of -- of the resting place of the dead, and it doesn't seem to me -- what would you have them erect? A cross -- some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David, and you know, a Moslem half moon and star?

MR. ELIASBERG: Well, Justice Scalia, if I may go to your first point. The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew. (Laughter.)

MR. ELIASBERG: So it is the most common symbol to honor Christians.

JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that's an outrageous conclusion."

As we can tell from Scalia's stuttering response, his point about the Cross being the most common symbol to honor the dead is at best ad hoc. It is foolish, but not important to Scalia's basic argument. What Scalia is really arguing is that the cross was intended to honor the dead regardless of religion, and that this intention should somehow trump the more literal denotations of the cross as a symbol.

This is still a problematic idea, however. It suggests that in Scalia's America, Christianity would act as a cultural lingua franca: the dominant idiom of American symbolism. Other symbolic languages would simply muddy the waters, as is clear from Scalia incredulous tone when he talks about a memorial that might combine the cross with the Star of David and the "Moslem" [sic] half-moon and star.

Scalia's America then, is still theocratic, but it is neither stupid nor ignorant of other faiths. It simply assumes that all other faiths can be, and should allow themselves to be, absorbed by the language of Christianity, like water is absorbed by a sponge. What is frightening here is that Scalia does not see this idea as radical . Rather, it is simply common sense.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/justice-scalias-cross_b_314752.html