by Rob Boston, the Director of Communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia captured headlines recently by declaring that nothing in the Constitution prevents the government from favoring religion over non-religion.
“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion,” Scalia told a crowd at Colorado Christian University Oct. 1.
“We do Him [God] honor in our Pledge of Allegiance, in all our public ceremonies,” he added. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.”
It’s not the first time Scalia has made such comments. In 2009, he told an Orthodox Jewish newspaper published in Brooklyn, “It has not been our American constitutional tradition, nor our social or legal tradition, to exclude religion from the public sphere. Whatever the Establishment Clause means, it certainly does not mean that government cannot accommodate religion, and indeed favor religion. My court has a series of opinions that say that the Constitution requires neutrality on the part of the government, not just between denominations, not just between Protestants, Jews and Catholics, but neutrality between religion and non-religion. I do not believe that. That is not the American tradition.”
The “American tradition” that Scalia refers to doesn’t have much of a history. “Under God” was slipped into the Pledge in 1954 as a slap at godless Communism. “In God We Trust” wasn’t codified for use on paper money until 1956 – again, it was a Cold War-era slam at the Soviets. (The use of the phrase on coins is older. It was a desperate ploy by the North to curry favor with the deity during the early months of the Civil War.)