Monday, October 13, 2014

178.4 - Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can favor religion over non-religion

Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can favor religion over non-religion

Now it's time for our other regular feature, it's the Outrage of the Week.

He is the gift that keeps on giving. After he won a couple of times, I retired him from competing for the Clown Award because he was just too easy a target, but here he is, coming storming back to seize the position of the Outrage of the Week. He is that beacon of buffoonery, that incubator of inanity, that epicenter of egregiousness, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

He recently gave a talk at Colorado Christian University, a place where, according to University president Bill Armstrong, he has more admirers than anywhere else on Earth.

To put that accolade into context, Bill Armstrong has argued that federal accreditation of colleges is a "government takeover" of private colleges - an op-ed illustrated with the image, appropriately. to the right - and the university is among the places that have argued that having to make contraceptive care available to their employees through their health insurance plans is a violation of religious freedom even though the institution would neither manage nor pay anything for the coverage.

So Scalia was, as even the right-wing Washington Times admits, "preaching to the choir" when he declared that separation of church and state doesn't actually mean separation of church and state, not really. Quoting him:
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.
It is, he went on, “utterly absurd” to think otherwise, arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion - not freedom from religion.

This is idiotic - which is nothing new for Justice Skeletor - because as others have pointed out, no freedom from religion means the government could require non-believers to choose a religion; being forced to swear a belief in a religion in which you do not believe would seem to be the definition of a violation of religious freedom.

It is outrageous that a Supreme Court justice could actually, seriously, propose such a thing.

But here's the other thing, the "rest of the story" if you will, and why this is the Outrage of the Week: I have talked before about what I call "the Commons," and how is under attack by the right wing.

Traditionally, "the Commons" referred to resources held in common by a community, often common pasture land. However, "The Commons" as I mean it in this context is a philosophical Commons, a social Commons, it refers to the idea of there being a public sphere in which all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and all have some responsibility. It is that space of socially shared and mutual duty, of what is, or at least by rights should be, equally available to all.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Skeletor
That idea that there are common interests and mutual responsibilities between and among all citizens simply by virtue of being in the same society, and the related idea of a social contract between the public and the government, is what is under attack from the right - or, more accurately, the wrong.

Justice Skeletor's claim that there is no freedom from religion guaranteed by the Constitution is part of that attack. I say that even though non-believers hold a variety of political beliefs - some atheists, for example, are very conservative politically even though overall atheists tend to be more liberal than the general American population. The point is that the net effect of such claims as his - the purpose of such claims as his - is to make it legitimate to read certain people out of full participation in society, to read them out of being full members of society, based on who they are or what they believe.

For example, it is, ultimately, the legal basis for the refusal to recognize same-sex marriage: You can be cut out of full participation in society based on who you love. Skeletor would extend that - or, if I'm going to be historically accurate, re-extend that - to your beliefs about god. It is an attack on the Commons, it is an attack that is one with attacks on voting rights, it is an attack on the idea of "community" - and it is an outrage.

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