Begging the biggest question of all
He called the Ten Commandments “a symbol of the fact that government* derives its authority from God,” adding, “That seems to me an appropriate symbol to put on government grounds.”
Beg pardon? “…the fact that…”? What point is there even discussing the validity of an argument if its premises are so flimsy, yet claimed with such apparent lack of equivocation, from an exalted, ex cathedra self-satisfaction? There’s so much that’s wrong with this statement that it’s hard to know where to start – or perhaps hard to know how far back to go. Obviously Scalia doesn’t, and can’t, know any such thing. The matter isn’t even one of authority. It’s a matter of existence. A legal claim of the existence of a god would be laughed out of any honest court, and yet here’s one of the handful of ultimate arbiters of law in the world’s most powerful country wielding it as an unassailable axiom. It’s begging the question, and in this case it’s a whopper. Absent the “fact” which Scalia falsely yet axiomatically claims, his system of inference is essentially a religious rather than a logical or legal one. This is, of course, activism, yet, because the cause is one of reactionary dogma, it passes as conservatism. I’ve been here before.
The issue is indeed one of separation between church and state, but it truly has nothing much to do with whether it’s okay to display some blandly vacuous old religious tenets in public buildings. The issue is whether the process of government can perform that separation; whether it can grow the fuck up, join the rest of us in the twenty-first century, and ditch the mediaeval axiom which builds towers upon sand: that a god – any one, feel free to choose – happens to exist. By all means believe in a god, if it makes you happy, blah blah blah, but as an axiom in any context, and a fortiori in any secular or legal context, it’s at best deeply flawed, at worst lethal. It doesn’t matter what conclusion Scalia might come to, when his system of inference is so totally compromised. He can’t apply separation between church and state in his court duties, because there’s no separation between church and state in his addled mind.
Also from the NYT piece:
Justice Scalia asked whether the marshal’s invocation that begins each Supreme Court session, “God save the United States and this honorable court,” was not also “divisive, because there are people who don’t believe in God.”
I can only growl when the god axiom leads to this. I mean, obviously the answer to Scalia’s question is: YES! But that he considers this to be the relevant question to ask shows that the argument is already in deep trouble. Is it so far from people’s minds to take that final step back beyond the god axiom, and ask something of the form of:
Is it not quite patently silly to invoke god in legal and governmental systems when the evidence for the existence of a god is so vapourous?
Scalia thinks this is about belief. It’s not. It’s about existence.
*Aside: Which government/s? I’m reminded of the Pratchett line about the vicissitudes of fate:
Just because it’s not nice doesn’t mean it’s not miraculous.
Claim divine authority for one government, and you must claim it for all of them: Saddam’s, Hitler’s, Ceausescu’s. Just because it’s not a nice government, doesn’t mean it’s not authorised.