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This Week in God, 10.4.14

In the U.S. tradition, government is supposed to treat Americans equally, regardless of religious beliefs. Antonin Scalia thinks this principle is a "lie."
Antonin Scalia
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia makes gestures as he speaks at the Northern Virginia Technology Council's (NVTC) Titans breakfast gathering in McLean,...
First up from the God Machine this week is a striking set of remarks from one of the most controversial Supreme Court justices in recent memory.

The separation of church and state doesn't mean "the government cannot favor religion over non-religion," Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued during a speech at Colorado Christian University on Wednesday, according to The Washington Times. Defending his strict adherence to the plain text of the Constitution, Scalia knocked secular qualms over the role of religion in the public sphere as "utterly absurd," arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion -- not freedom from it.

In an unusually radical argument for a high-court jurist, Scalia reportedly insisted this week, "[The Supreme Court's] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and non-religion. That's just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution."
The implications of such an approach are pretty remarkable. In Scalia's vision, the Constitution -- a secular document, which separates religion and government -- empowers the government to favor supernatural beliefs over disbelief. Government couldn't favor Baptists over Buddhists, the argument goes, but laws can favor both over those he dismisses as "secularists."
If U.S. policymakers passed a law that deliberately treated American atheists as second-class citizens, Scalia seems to believe that's perfectly permissible under the Constitution.
Of course, there is nothing in the Constitution that empowers the state to favor religion over irreligion, but Scalia has apparently morphed the document to comport with his preferred vision of a government that blurs the church-state line.
As my friend Rob Boston wrote for the American Constitution Society this week, "[F]or all this bluster, Scalia isn't really harkening back to the founding document of the Constitution. Nothing there provides comfort for his view of a religion-tinged government."
In other words, the strict constructionist just made up his own rules, based on what he wishes the Constitution says, but doesn't. It's what happens when someone starts with an answer, then works backwards in the hopes of reaching an agreed upon conclusion -- which is largely the opposite of what someone in Scalia's position is supposed to do.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The NFL later apologized: "When openly Christian quarterback Tim Tebow dropped to a knee in prayer, it became a national meme. When devoutly Muslim Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah celebrated his touchdown in a similar fashion, he got a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 15-yard penalty."
* This is an odd one: "A Baptist church in Louisiana has barred Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) from holding meetings on their grounds, claiming that allowing the support group to gather would eventually require the congregation to start performing gay marriages."
* Stephen Colbert poked fun at Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) concerns about evolution, promoting the Republican governor to try to retaliate. It didn't go well (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the heads-up).
* Seems overdue: "The only American bishop ever convicted of shielding a pedophile priest is now under investigation by the Vatican."
* And Sarah Posner did a real nice job on this report on the International House of Prayer: "The prayer room -- a nondescript auditorium ringed with small side rooms for prophesying and faith healing -- receives daily visitors from all over the world who want to experience what IHOP's founder, the controversial, and self-titled, "prophet" Mike Bickle, claims is a recreation of the biblical King David's tabernacle. Bickle maintains he is helping Christians achieve a greater intimacy with Jesus through 24/7 music and prayer -- a prerequisite, he says, for Jesus to return to earth, carry out God's battle plan for the end-times, vanquish the Antichrist, and rule the world from his throne in Jerusalem."