A Luncheon with Justice Scalia

I originally wrote this essay when Justice Scalia visited Colorado last fall.  It was originally published here.


I received a last minute email invitation from my constitutional law professor asking me if I wanted to see Justice Antonin Scalia speak at Colorado Christian University. Constitutional law I and II have been my favorite classes at UCD. But I hesitated to accept, at first, because I have come to dislike many of Scalia’s decisions. But an offer to see a great mind speak, even one that I disagree with on many, but not all, issues was an opportunity that was too good to pass up.

Colorado Christian University put on a great event, and they were gracious hosts. Though I was a bit surprised when one of the school directors opened the luncheon by saying, “If you are here to show your support for Obamacare… you are in the wrong place!” This received a warm round of applause and laughs. This scene quickly reminded me that I was sitting in a room full of people with differing perspectives than me. But that is why I love political science because it allows me to sit among people of differing interests, and learn from them.

Justice Scalia’s speech was a very fitting topic: the separation of church and state. He noted that it was the religious who seemed to struggle the most regarding this core principle. He said that this was mainly because some of the secular laws in existence are contrary to their religious beliefs (i.e., gay rights, abortion rights, etc.). However, to the non-religious person, the separation of the church and state rarely causes conflict, and is as simple as 2 plus 2 for them.

Now, maybe I missed it, but I never really felt like Justice Scalia ended the talk with any kind of reconciliation for the predominantly Christian crowd. He seemed to dance around the notion that Christians could still implement laws that were in line with their beliefs. He even used the example that we have “moral laws” that prohibit people from walking around naked in the public. Regardless of my personal take on his speech, Justice Scalia did impart with a salient point about the nature of the state, and the nature of the church.


“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

– Mark 12:17


Justice Scalia pointed out how the nature of the state has to deal with issues in society that cannot be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus, or many of the other religions. And this is why Jesus told his followers to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” However, Scalia stressed that it is not that the state is inherently evil, but that it has to deal with issues where “turning the other cheek” and “forgiveness” might not work. In other words, how well would a state function if it told a victim of violence to turn the other cheek, rather than wanting the state to have the perpetrator arrested? Thus, Justice Scalia seemed to be suggesting that the religious may need to come to grips with the fact that the state will never be able to act as a Christian should act.

All in all, I am happy that I accepted the invitation to attend this talk. It confirmed for me why it is important to listen, not just to the people that agree with you, but also with the people who don’t always agree with you. The struggle over religion and tradition, and the nature of the secular state, will continue to be a prominent theme in our world. And I don’t know if this issue will ever resolve itself. But I do know that by sitting down and listening to opposing viewpoints was an experience that helped, not hindered, my personal understanding of the issues that surround the separation of church and state.

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