Acton Institute Powerblog

Justice Scalia: Good Government Needs Religion

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Speaking on February 14 at a Chicago event celebrating George Washington’s Birthday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s headline remark was his insistence that Chicago-style pizza is “not pizza.” But Scalia focused heavily on the abysmal state of civic education, which not surprisingly, includes law students as well.

Over at the Liberty Law Blog, Josh Blackman, offers some excellent highlights of Scalia’s words from the event. On the relationship between religion and good government, Scalia declared:

Let me make clear that I am not saying that every good American must believe in God. What I am saying, however, is that it is contrary to our founding principles to insist that government be hostile to religion. Or even to insist, as my court, alas, has done, that government cannot favor religion over non-religion.

It is not a matter of believing that God exists, though personally I believe that. It is a matter of believing, as our founders did, that belief in God is very conducive to a successful republic.

Scalia also noted the desperate need for a deeper civic mindedness of the people:

You know what I worry most about is … the decline of the republican spirit.

It doesn’t exist in our people with a vigor that used to exist. That’s what I’m most worried about, that we’re going to become just another, I don’t know, another undemocratic, politician-run state. Which our framers would never have supported. That’s why I think education in democracy, education in republicanism, is so important.

Scalia called Washington his favorite president and added he was “a man of conscience and steadfast determination.”

In the Liberty Law Blog post, Scalia and Blackman lament the ignorance of law students of the The Federalist. Blackman even notes that a few of his law students have never even heard of the work. In Federalist #55, James Madison expounds upon the essential tie between morality and civic responsibility:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • Quitplayingwithmyconstitution

    Religion cannot be a part of government. Our fore father’s made that quite clear in their declaration of separation of church and state.
    When religions start playing a majority role in politics…The citizens of that nation suffer.
    Every time.
    Women are the first to lose.
    Then children.
    They breed hate.
    And above all…they seek absolute power and control over the masses.
    At any cost.
    Absolute control.

    • JohnE

      Not quite sure if you were being serious or facetious. Our forefathers were religious men and were driven by religious ideals. The separation of church and state has more to do about protecting religious institutions from government meddling than worry about some sort of theocracy.

      Government is all about setting laws and policies — that is, what’s right and what’ wrong, what behavior will be encouraged and promoted, and what behavior is discouraged and restricted. You’re going to get morality “imposed” on you one way or another. Since we are a government of the people and by the people, then the religious values of the people should most definitely have an influence on government laws and policies.

  • Philmonomer

    I am always suspicious when someone says “Our Country is losing/has lost the value of [fill in the blank], which was more prevalent in the past.” Really? How do you know?

    • Quip11

      By watching any movie or TV show filmed before about 1970.

  • Quip11

    Accurate enough to notice how much the portrayal of religion has changed over the years. Haven’t you noticed?

    • Philmonomer

      What is the value that is being lost?