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Church-state rulings have gone too far, Scalia tells Va. crowd. (People & Events).

The Supreme Court has gone too far with its rulings upholding the separation of church and state, Justice Antonin Scalia told a small crowd in Fredericksburg, Va., Jan. 12.

Scalia, speaking at a "Religious Freedom Day" sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Knights Templar, two Roman Catholic fraternal groups, asserted that the nation's founders never meant to "exclude God from the public forums and from political life."

In a 10-minute speech, Scalia endorsed symbolic uses of religion by government, such as "In God We Trust" on currency, chaplains in the military, "non-denominational" prayer before public school sporting events and use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Scalia said these practices "reflect the true tradition of religious freedom in America--a tradition of neutrality among religious faiths. Government will not favor Catholic, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, but the tradition was never that the government had to be neutral between religiousness and non-religiousness."

The justice, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and a persistent foe of church-state separation on the court, blasted the idea that the Constitution is a "living" document that "morphs ... whatever we think it ought to mean, it means--and that new meaning will be imposed on our citizens coast to coast." He demeaned those who hold this view as believing that the Constitution is like "Plasticman," a comic book hero who can change his shape.

Ironically, Scalia was in town to mark the anniversary of a 1777 meeting between Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and others that led to the drafting of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty. That law, drafted by Jefferson, became the basis for the First Amendment's separation of church and state.

Legal observers were particularly galled that during his remarks Scalia criticized a federal court ruling striking down the use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge. The case is on appeal and could someday reach the Supreme Court. It is highly unusual for Supreme Court justices to announce how they will vote on a case before it reaches the justices.

A lone protestor stood at the back of the crowd hoisting a sign that read, "Get Religion Out of Government." Scalia made note of it, telling the crowd, "The sign back here which says `Get Religion Out of Government' can be imposed on the whole country. I have no problem with that philosophy being adopted democratically. If the gentleman holding the sign would persuade all of you of that, then we could eliminate `under God' from the Pledge of Allegiance. That could be democratically done."

Americans United issued a statement calling on Scalia to recuse himself from future church-state cases.

"Supreme Court justices are not supposed to announce their views before a case reaches them," noted Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Since Scalia can't seem to abide by that simple rule, perhaps it's best if he just stayed out of future church-state controversies. It's obvious his mind is made up before he's even heard the argument."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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