Call it the Alito fallacy.
Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was in Rome, where he gave an opening speech at Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Summit.
Among the anecdotes he shared: A few years ago, in a museum in Berlin, he saw a little boy pointing at a wooden crucifix and asking his mother, “Who is this man?”
He didn’t report what the mother said to her son, but he was apparently surprised enough to read something disturbing in the child’s innocent question.
“That memory stuck in my mind as a harbinger of what might happen to our culture,” said Alito, who is Catholic.
What terrible thing awaits us?
Alito apparently concluded from the museum’s exchange that religious freedom is in terrible danger because people aren’t as devout as they used to be.
“It’s hard to convince people that religious freedom is worth fighting for if they don’t think religion is a good thing worth protecting,” he said, and put warns against a “growing hostility” to religion, “or at least to traditional religions”. beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code which is being imposed in certain sectors”.
It’s silly. Religious persecution has been part of American history from the beginning and continues unabated to this day. People with ancient moral codes, i.e. religious people, are often the worst offenders when it comes to religious tolerance. Just ask people who wanted to build an Islamic community center and mosque in New York near ground zero of 9/11.
Be that as it may, Alito engages here in a classic case of projection: he attributes to others what he does himself.
In a country founded on the fundamental principle of separation of church and state, he and his ultra-religious colleagues have been busy ramming Catholic and evangelical Christian beliefs down the throats of all Americans.
It was bad enough a few years ago when the court ruled that an employer’s religious beliefs trumped an employee’s right to contraceptive coverage.
But over the past few months, the court’s conservative supermajority has really gone to town with the 1st Amendment. The judges ruled that a coach from a Christian public school could hold practically religious revivals on the football field after games.
The court found that Maine engaged in religious discrimination by refusing to provide tuition assistance to students to attend private Christian schools if the state provided it to similar private schools.
Worse still, judges have forced their Christian religious beliefs into the wombs of American women, stripping away the nearly 50-year-old federal abortion law. (I’m sure the majority believed that overturning Roe v. Wade was a principled constitutional position; however, it was nothing more than the imposition of religious fanaticism on a population that, to a large extent, believes that abortion should be legal.)
By elevating the Christian faith, Alito and his fellow conservative justices have placed religious rights on a collision course with the Constitution.
Last week, in fact, my colleague Deborah Netburn wrote about a Florida rabbi who filed a religious liberty lawsuit challenging the ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The rabbi, who is also a civil rights lawyer, wrote Netburn, “tells his congregation that unlike Roman Catholic and Evangelical teachings, which state that life begins at conception, traditional Jewish law, known as halakha , says that life begins at birth: when the baby takes its first breath. Before that, the physical and emotional well-being of the mother is paramount.
Similarly, she wrote, in the Muslim faith, a fetus is not considered souled until 120 days after conception.
How can these different beliefs be reconciled with the many state legislatures who are preparing, or have already acted, to prohibit access to abortion, sometimes even in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the pregnant person is in danger? The question of when life begins, after all, is theological or moral, not scientific.
As the Supreme Court continues to privilege Christian creed in its rulings, is it any wonder that far-right Christian elected officials feel free to openly criticize America’s grand tradition of keeping religion out of government and vice versa?
“I’m sick of this separation of church and state junk,” the Republican said U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado said recently as she shared her “personal testimony” with congregants at Cornerstone Christian Center in tiny Basalt, Colorado. “The church is supposed to run the government,” she said. “The government is not supposed to run the church. This is not how our founding fathers understood it.
I’m waiting for the historical quote on that one.
Boebert’s Republican dingbat, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, marches in step.
“We must be the party of nationalism, and I am a Christian, and I say this proudly, we should be Christian nationalists”, Greene said a little over a week ago.
Just as the election of the first black president sparked a powerful backlash against racial progress, it is possible that the brazen embrace of Christian nationalism is an overreaction to the growing secularization of the American population.
A recent Gallup poll found that belief in god in the United States is at an all-time low (though still at 81%).
And membership in houses of worship fell below 50% for the first time since Gallup began tracking eight decades ago.
I must have laughed when Judge Alito thought of his audience in Rome what historians will say centuries from now about America’s contribution to civilization. “One thing I hope they will say is that our country…has finally shown the world that it is possible to have a stable and prosperous society in which people of various faiths live and work together. harmoniously and productively while maintaining their own beliefs,” he said.
Keep wishing, Judge Alito. The recent decisions of your court are a rebuke to your noble words.