At the funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia, his son Paul, giving the homily, cited his father’s belief that the success of America arose from the blessing of God — a blessing experienced in part because of faith’s role in the life of this nation.
As usual, the justice himself explained it best. In his life and at his death, Scalia has defined the contours of an epic battle that will determine a central part of America’s future.
Speaking at his father’s funeral mass, Fr. Paul Scalia explained:
God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing, a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there. So he understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service.
In his dissenting opinion in the 2005 case McCreary County v. ACLU, Justice Antonin Scalia explained:
Those who wrote the Constitution believed that morality was essential to the well-being of society and that encouragement of religion was the best way to foster morality. The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself…
President Washington opened his Presidency with a prayer, and reminded his fellow citizens at the conclusion of it that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” President John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts Militia, “we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
After going on to quote similar sentiments from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Scalia continued:
Nor have the views of our people on this matter significantly changed. Presidents continue to conclude the Presidential oath with the words “so help me God.” Our legislatures, state and national, continue to open their sessions with prayer led by official chaplains. The sessions of this Court continue to open with the prayer “God save the United States and this Honorable Court.” Invocation of the Almighty by our public figures, at all levels of government, remains commonplace. Our coinage bears the motto, “In God We Trust.” And our Pledge of Allegiance contains the acknowledgment that we are a Nation “under God.” As one of our Supreme Court opinions rightly observed, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”
With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that “the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between… religion and nonreligion,” and that “[m]anifesting a purpose to favor… adherence to religion generally,” is unconstitutional? Who says so? Surely not the words of the Constitution. Surely not the history and traditions that reflect our society’s constant understanding of those words.
With these and many other words, Justice Scalia expressed the belief historically held in our society that American Exceptionalism is linked to an abiding faith in God. “God has been very good to us,” the conservative lion expressed in a speech shortly before his passing. “One of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done him honor.”
The 2016 election is about an existential threat to American Exceptionalism. Between contests for president, Congress, and now the Supreme Court, this country stands on the precipice of an America where the public square is purged of every reference to the divine, where people can be punished for expressing their faith-based beliefs if they disagree with the current political orthodoxy, and where religious liberty is confined to your worship houses on Sunday, but cannot influence how to live your life or run your privately owned business.
It remains to be seen if the American people show they want to retain their voice in this decisive national debate.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News and director of strategic affairs for First Liberty. Ken Blackwell is a professor at Liberty University and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Follow them on Twitter @kenklukowski and @kenblackwell.