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.

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