At the website of CNN you can read this eye-opening story: Scalia says atheism ‘favors the devil’s desires’.
Why do we care if Antonin Scalia has bizarre views? Well, first it’s because he’s a US Supreme Court Justice. And second, of particular interest to this blog, it can effect The Controversy between evolution and creationism. To explain that we need to provide a lot of background material.
Those of you familiar with the decision by Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District have heard about the Lemon test, which Judge Jones relied upon in reaching his decision.
That refers to an earlier decision by the Supreme Court, Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), which is the highest court decision available on whether a state action (that includes the actions of local school boards) violates the First Amendment. It’s binding on all lower court judges who have to decide such cases. In Lemon, the US Supreme Court said:
In the absence of precisely stated constitutional prohibitions, we must draw lines with reference to the three main evils against which the Establishment Clause was intended to afford protection: “sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the sovereign in religious activity.” [citation omitted]
Every analysis in this area must begin with consideration of the cumulative criteria developed by the Court over many years. Three such tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion [citations omitted], finally, the statute must not foster “an excessive government entanglement with religion.”
So there it is, the three-pronged Lemon test. That’s the key to understanding the strategy of the Discovery Institute in designing their intentionally deceptive Academic Freedom bill. It seems that the only lesson the Discoveroids learned from Kitzmiller is not that they’re engaged in a hopelessly stupid crusade, but that they’ve got to be careful about concealing their motives. So they struggle for legislation that will pass with a “perfect record,” where none of their supporters even whispers the “G-word.” Then, in the inevitable court challenge, they’ll argue that their “academic freedom” bill escapes the “secular purpose” prong of the Lemon test. But won’t one of the other two prongs impale it anyway?
They’re desperately hoping that a ridiculously gullible trial judge, and similarly stupid appellate judges, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, will somehow fail to notice that their “theory” about a magical, mystical, non-materialistic intelligent designer — blessed be he! — is nothing but that old-time religion, repackaged in fancy terminology. That’s a pathetic hope, rather like a withered hag who dresses in what the young girls are wearing, jazzes herself up with a frizzy hairdo, puts on way too much makeup, and then goes out to a disco (if such still exist) looking for romance. Will anyone be deceived? It’s not very likely.
Even the Discoveroids (some of them) must realize that’s not going to happen. But their long-range hope is that the Lemon test itself might not survive the next Supreme Court decision. What gives them that hope?
In their dissent to Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education back in 2000, Justices Scalia and Thomas, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist (now-deceased), indicated their desire to revisit Lemon. They dissented to a decision that left standing an appellate decision striking down a Louisiana school board’s requirement that a disclaimer must be made whenever the theory of evolution is discussed. The disclaimer, which foreshadowed the one in the Kitzmiller case a few years later, said:
It is hereby recognized by the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, that the lesson to be presented, regarding the origin of life and matter, is known as the Scientific Theory of Evolution and should be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept. … Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.
The dissent by Scalia, Thomas, and Rehnquist (two of whom are still on the Supreme Court) said that the Court should have heard the case, because it would give them an “opportunity to inter the Lemon test once for all.” They added:
We stand by in silence while a deeply divided Fifth Circuit bars a school district from even suggesting to students that other theories besides evolution – including, but not limited to, the Biblical theory of creation – are worthy of their consideration.
[Addendum: Lemon was cited with approval in the 1987 US Supreme Court case of Edwards v. Aguillard, which struck down the Louisiana law requiring that creation science be taught in public schools along with evolution. There was a dissent (favorable to creation science) by Scalia and Rehnquist. Thomas was not yet on the Court.]
That long introduction finally brings us to what we found today at CNN. It tells about a recent interview of Scalia conducted by Jennifer Senior. Here are a few excerpts, with bold font supplied by us for emphasis:
After Scalia and Senior discussed heaven and hell (he believes in them; she doesn’t), the justice said in a stage whisper, “I even believe in the devil.”
“You do?” Senior replied.
“Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, come on, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that,” Scalia said.
Interesting, huh? The article continues:
Scalia said the Devil has gotten “wilier” and convinced people that he and God don’t exist. The justice added that he doesn’t think that atheists are Satan’s minions, but that disbelief in God “certainly favors the devil’s desires.”
Yeah, that ol’ Devil is certainly wily. One last excerpt, and here Scalia is speaking directly to the interviewer:
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird,” he answered. “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.”
So there you are. We generally agree with Scalia’s understanding of the Constitution. But we fear that in church-state controversies, he’d like to carve out an exception to the First Amendment. It would supersede the Lemon case and provide that if a state action has as one of its purposes a desire to thwart the Devil, then it’s okay. Surely Madison would have included such a proviso when he drafted the First Amendment, if only he had given the matter more thought.
The Discoveroids would greatly benefit from that. So would all creationists, and especially those with theocratic ambitions. Among the beneficiaries would be manufacturers of torture equipment — the kind that was used in the good old days of the Inquisition. Although Scalia doesn’t seem to grasp it, if his views prevail, the Devil would be pleased.
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