Justice Antonin Scalia and the Devil

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.

Copyright © 2013. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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22 responses to “Justice Antonin Scalia and the Devil

  1. The full interview that the CNN piece refers to is here: http://nymag.com/news/features/antonin-scalia-2013-10/ It makes . . . scary reading.

    We generally agree with Scalia’s understanding of the Constitution.

    Speak for yourself . . . 🙂

  2. Wild Juggler

    From now on I will always call him “Ayatollah Scalia”. What a sick mind he has!

  3. Terms limits for everyone, Senators, Congressmen and Supreme Court justices, it’s the only way to end this madness. Why should we suffer this fool waiting for him to take his last breath?

  4. Scalia said “Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change.” This from a man who sided with the majority on Citizens United. In particular, he expressed the opinion that money is speech. He also appears to have no problem saying that corporations are people. By expressing these views, Scalia is saying that words mean anything he damn well wants them to mean. This is Orwellian, as in “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” (from “1984”).

    Perhaps it’s easy to be so dishonest when you practice a religion that so readily forgives “sins.” Just step into that confessional, say your Hail Mary’s, and go on lying.

  5. Richard Olson

    Well said, realthog. As if the 5 avowedly religious, plutocratic-inclined majority that gave us Citizens United (please pretend Citizens United is in italics) is to be trusted regarding the preservation of democracy itself, much less secularism. And take a look at relatively recent (previous couple of decades) state and federal court judicial appointments that include legal stalwarts from luminous institutions like Liberty and Patrick Henry “law schools”. Thanks, GOP intermarriage with the Religious Right. Neither can survive without the other, either. Think about that when you cast ballots.

  6. Uh, Mr. Devil? Justice Antonin Scalia sez he’s got all your plans figurd out. Could u plz give him ass cancer? Kthnx!

    [Tweeted from Diogeneslamp0]

    Hmm… I think I should create a new hash tag… #ScaliaAssCancer

  7. What’s disgusting about Scalia is what’s disgusting about creationism in general. It isn’t really the supernatural beliefs– so he believes in a horned goat-hoofed man running in the woods, so what? What he infuriates me is what Scalia believes about his fellow human Americans:

    “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.”

    What I loathe about this is that he’s playing psychoanalyst and anthropologist. He knows what you’re thinking and what your life is like even without evidence.

    The presumptuousness of this a**hole: “You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America.” The correct response to that is, “&!%$ you, you senile a**hole, how the hell would you know anything about “mainstream America”? The circles you travel in are corrupt junkets paid for by fascist billionaires like the Kochs. How dare you call some middle-class journalist “out of touch”? You travel around the world on the private jets of your corporate patrons whom you paid back so handsomely in the Citizens United decision– those are your circles. You wouldn’t know mainstream America if it bit on your corrupt, gigantic a**.”

    The fact that this obese, corrupt pol (that’s what he is) thinks he’s an excellent judge of character, and he can freakin read minds, is a goddamn problem for the whole USA. A judge needs to be a good judge of character. But a judge who’s a terrible judge of character AND is so egomaniacal that he thinks he’s a good judge of character is a curse on our whole country.

  8. Well said, Diogenes. And quite poetic with it.

  9. So, ah, Diogenes … I wanna make sure I understand. Am I correct that you’re not a fan of Scalia’s?

  10. Wow, unrepentant appeal to authority, and from a Supreme Court Justice no less. Maybe there is a Devil, by abduction.

  11. Or maybe Scalia is hiding a long pointy tail under that robe.

  12. Realist1948 dares to suggest: “maybe Scalia is hiding a long pointy tail under that robe.”

    My Italian isn’t very good, but doesn’t his name mean: The Scaly One?

  13. Also, JC was a Jew. Now, I’m no fancy theologian, but I don’t think Jews believed in Satan or hell.

  14. Not a Theologian

    but I don’t think Jews believed in Satan or hell.

    a) Both are mentioned in the Old Testament.
    b) Jesus mentioned both.

  15. Not a Constitutional Scholar

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    Seems Justice Scalia is entitled to hold his theological opinions just like any other citizen, even if he is a Supreme Court Justice. I am not religious myself, but do not feel the need to anthematize those of my fellow citizens who are, or demand that their religion be driven from the public square.

    Let us not forget that Nancy Pelosi is a practicing Catholic, though I do not know her views on the Devil, and Harry Reid is a practicing Mormon. Keith Ellison has been a member of Nation of Islam, which should be far more troubling than any ideas Scalia has about the Devil, but the D after Ellison’s name of course gives him the same pass on religion that Reid, Pelosi, and Presidents Obama and Clinton enjoy.

  16. but the D after Ellison’s name of course gives him the same pass on religion that Reid, Pelosi, and Presidents Obama and Clinton enjoy.

    What bollocks. There’s been no mention here that I’ve seen of religios being picked on because they have an (R) after their name.

    Or are you suggesting that Scalia’s being anathematized because he has a sort of invisible (R) after his name? If so, he’s surely unfit to be a Supreme Court justice: they’re supposed, you recall, to be nonpartisan.

  17. I think that most Christians and Jews believe that the devil exists. After all, who did God make his bet with concerning Lot, and who tempted Jesus in the desert? The devil is baked into the theology.

    What makes the interview scary is that a supreme court justice, who we trust to be an intelligent and rational person, openly expresses belief in an imaginary creature, and believes that creature is acting in the world in various ways. However scary that is, almost everyone else in government talks about the devil’s imaginary counterpart, God, with equal conviction and no one takes any notice at all. Hell, (no pun intended), belief in God is a de facto requirement for office. For some reason, it just sounds different when it is the devil.

    The scary thing to me is that he appears to place great significance on Catholic doctrine, especially as it applies to social questions like gay marriage, contraception, etc. If that’s true, than he will not be impartial when deciding a variety of cases having to do with social issues or religion in schools and society – regardless of any secular merit an individual case may have, he may rule in accordance with Catholic doctrine either because he personally believes in the doctrine, is loyal to the church, or just because he thinks that ol’ devil will have his soul if he violates it.

    It’s as though the Pope has his own justice on the court.

  18. A Reuters poll in 2007 found that 62% of Americans believe in a literal Hell and the Devil. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2007/11/29/us-usa-religion-beliefs-idUKN2922875820071129

  19. @ linnetmoss: thanks for that link! To my mind (I count as a ‘bewildered European’), here’s the money shot:

    More Americans believe in a literal hell and the devil than Darwin’s theory of evolution. …[snip]…It is the latest survey to highlight America’s deep level of religiosity, a cultural trait that sets it apart from much of the developed world. It also helps explain many of its political battles which Europeans find bewildering, such as efforts to have “Intelligent Design” theory — which holds life is too complex to have evolved by chance — taught in schools alongside evolution.

  20. RE: The Devil, who may or may not have gone down to Georgia.

    The fact that the NT mentions Hell and the Devil may tell us a lot about what later Christians believed, but not precisely what JC thought. From Bart Ehrman’s blog-post “The Invention of Heaven and Hell:”

    …I think the idea that such places [heaven and hell] exist were not the original ideas of Jesus and his followers, but were later developments among Christian thinkers in later times. And since these ideas did not exist at one point among Christians, and then later became very much Christian ideas, then in that sense, SOMEBODY came up with them (or lots of somebodies), and that would involve their “invention.”

    Ehrman later says “when Jews started thinking apocalyptically – about 160 years before Jesus during the period known as the Maccabean Revolt – is when they first came up with the idea of the Devil.” Ehrman giveth and Ehrman taketh away. So, I’ll reluctantly concede that point, with the caveat that the devil was a symbol, a metaphor for inner struggle, or a “plot device to give people free will,” the choice between doing right or wrong.
    Hey, Ehrman has first-hand knowledge. Fundies call him a tool of Satan.

  21. @Ed, to say most Christians believe in the Devil and Hell is correct, but is probably not true for Jews. According to this 2009 poll, only 21% and 7% of Jews believe in Hell and the Devil, respectively. Weirdly, it also shows 5% of those who claim to be Jewish believe 1) in the virgin birth, 2) that JC is the son of god, and 3) in Christ’s resurrection. Isn’t there another religious category for people who believe those three things?

  22. Umm can I both despise Scalia AND think Citizens United was properly decided? I think Scalia is a pompous ass and is frequently partisan in both his decisions and in his opinions. I do not believe that corporations are people and thus hold the civil rights due to a living human being. I do believe that money is speech and that any restrictions on money in politics only serves to entrench those already there.