It was the winter of 1986, I was student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The guest speaker was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. I don’t remember anything from his prepared remarks but I doubt there was a person in the auditorium that day that has forgotten how this jurist from the highest court in the land responded to one particular question.
A student asked Justice Scalia if the Constitutional rights and guarantees of religious freedom that America takes such pride in are not compromised when “blue laws” restricting commerce on Sunday are applied to non-Christians? Scalia responded with what we have come to appreciate as his own very acerbic, autocratic style. This is a predominantly Christian country he informed his predominately Jewish audience. And as such it is the prerogative of the majority to make laws that promote and protect their values and religious traditions. Non-Christians are most welcome in America so long as they accept and respect majority rule.
There is no doubt in my mind that Antonin Scalia was a genius. But as mature people with some level of humanity and sophistication know all too well these days, there is no direct correlation between intelligence and the depth of person’s compassion and humanity. I imagine that at some point as a young man, Antonin Scalia began applying his exceptional smarts -not for what we Jews call Tikun Olam, building a better world for all, but to protecting and defending one world in particular, that of rigidly conservative Christians.
Right-wing conservative Christians who passionately reject a world in which women have the final say in all matters related to reproductive rights, the government does not promote any religion and LGBT people enjoy the same civil liberties as everyone else, are in mourning today for one of the great defenders of their provincial universe they call home. Antonin Scalia will no doubt be remembered as one of the great protectors of those Americans who are more comfortable with tribalism than pluralism, more at home with familiar doctrines regarding faith and social order then sentiments related to inclusivity and and mutual respect.
When all was said and done, Antonin Scalia’s raison d’etre was protecting that insular world he championed using whatever legal barriers he could devise regardless of how those barriers might compromise the freedoms of others. May Justice Scalia and that misguided mission that defined his life, rest in peace.