It didn’t get much attention, but Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave an interesting address recently at a Catholic university in Pittsburgh.
Scalia spoke at an event marking the 100th anniversary of Duquesne University Law School. It was the usual lament from the ultra-conservative justice: American society is going hell because not enough people agree with Scalia.
"Our educational establishment these days, while so tolerant of and even insistent upon diversity in all other aspects of life, seems bent on eliminating diversity of moral judgment – particularly moral judgment based on religious views,” Scalia opined.
Admittedly, it has been a long time since I’ve been in college, but I recall a pretty robust experience with lots of different points of view represented, including plenty of religious ones. Student-run religious clubs were common, and I was invited to Bible studies and other religious events on more than one occasion. Every spring, a roving evangelist would appear in the school’s central quad and commence with the hellfire and damnation. Lots of students argued with him, but no one tried to kick him off campus.
I edited the school newspaper and remember a lively discussion over abortion that erupted on the letters page. Plenty of religious viewpoints were brought to bear. Of course, we also discussed religion freely in our classrooms, just as we discussed philosophy and ethics. Naturally the school didn’t take a point of view when it came to faith. This was a public institution, after all.
Here’s what’s really bugging Scalia: Many colleges, including Catholic ones, welcome gay people these days. He complained about schools that require student clubs that receive university support and backing to be open to all students, even gays.
“I hope this place will not yield – as some Catholic institutions have – to this politically correct insistence upon suppression of moral judgment, to this distorted view of what diversity in America means,” Scalia said.
My guess is it already has. Duquesne is like a lot of private religious universities these days: It’s partially a ward of the state. These schools have taken so much government money in the form of federal grants and loans to students that they’ve watered down the religiosity. They admit members outside their own faith and don’t push prayer on anyone.
There are reasons other than federal aid why this has happened. The competition for students these days is fierce. (Trust me on this. My daughter is a high school senior.) Most colleges and universities no longer desire to serve an insular community. After all, the number of young people burning to attend an institution of higher education that pushes a narrow brand of faith 24/7 is limited. (Want to apply to Duquesne? You need good test scores, a personal essay and $50. There are no religious requirements.)
I was also struck by this line from Scalia’s speech: “The Rule of Law is second only to the Rule of Love. The here and now is less important than the hereafter.”
Oh, I don’t know. Sure, a lot of people wonder what happens after death – but there are numerous opinions on that. When he’s on the bench deciding cases that affect 300 million people of various religions and philosophies, I’d rather see Scalia stick to the Rule of Law and focus on the here and now first and foremost. That’s where the cases are coming from, after all.
Finally, I note that Scalia went off on a tear about a controversy at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where a D.C. resident is suing over the school’s new ban on coed dorms, claiming it violates D.C.’s Human Rights Act.
This case is pending in the courts, and the man who brought it, George Washington University Law School Professor John Banzhaf, told the Wall Street Journal he was “astonished that a justice of the nation’s highest court would single out and pre-judge a legal proceeding which could set an important precedent, and could one day even come before the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Banzhaf is right – and Scalia ought to know better. In 2003, Scalia has to recuse himself from a case challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance because he had earlier given a speech to a Knights of Columbus rally in Virginia during which he asserted that the Framers of the Constitution didn't intend to “exclude God from the public forums and from political life.”
When is this guy going to learn to keep his mouth shut?