Samuel Alito Went To Rome To Gloat That The Supreme Court Is A Religious Body

Samuel Alito Went To Rome To Gloat That The Supreme Court Is A Religious Body

Last month, when the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ruling that state governments should be allowed to outlaw abortion and make personal medical decisions for their residents, leaders across the world spoke out against it — with the notable exception of Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right President of Brazil who has openly expressed his preference for military dictatorships on numerous occasions.

Not long after that, Justice Samuel Alito, looking for all the world like the ghost of Emmett Kelly, delivered the keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome. During this address, he took a moment to drag these world leaders, suggesting that it was the very first time in all of history that world leaders had dared criticize a Supreme Court decision.

“I had the honour this term of writing I think the only Supreme Court decision in the history of that institution that has been lambasted by a whole string of foreign leaders who felt perfectly fine commenting on American law,” he said, to great applause.

Yes, generally speaking, world leaders do frequently feel very comfortable "lambasting" other countries for violating the basic human rights of their citizens. Alito should perhaps consider finding out what the rest of the world, including his beloved Pope, thinks about our capital punishment situation.

“One of these was Boris Johnson, but he paid the price,” Alito said to great laughter, not realizing that the actual joke here was that even Boris Johnson could see how appalling the court's decision was.

“But what really wounded me — what really wounded me — was when the Duke of Sussex addressed the United Nations and seemed to compare the decision, whose name may not be spoken, with the Russian attack on Ukraine,” he gloated, referring to recent, entirely valid statements from Prince Harry in which he referenced the ruling as part of a "a global assault on democracy and freedom.”

It is important to note that this little vaudeville routine was performed in the context of a speech about "religious liberty." A speech focused primarily on Justice Alito's fear that non-believers like me are going to take his religious liberty away. You know, like how he took away the rights of pregnant people to control what happens to their own bodies?

Harkening back to the days of Christians being thrown to lions in the Colosseum (Christians were not thrown to lions in the Colosseum), Alito touched on religious persecution throughout the ages and the present.

“Religious liberty is under attack in many places because it is dangerous to those who want to hold complete power,” he said. “It also probably grows out of something dark and deep in the human DNA — the tendency to distrust and dislike people who are not like ourselves.”

It was then, after referring to "the tendency to distrust and dislike people who are not like ourselves" as something "dark," that Alito began to expound on the threat non-believers pose to believers.

“This challenge stems from a turn away from religion. Polls show a significant increase in the percentage of the population that rejects religion or thinks it’s not all that important." he said. "And this has a very important impact on religious liberty. It is hard to convince people that religious liberty is worth defending if they don’t think that religion is a good thing that deserves protection.”

He then told a harrowing story about the time he was (at a hipster coffee shop?) in Berlin looking at a "rustic wooden cross" and a child asked his mother "Who is that man?" — which he said has stuck in his head for years as a "harbinger" of what is ahead for our culture.

The problem that looms is not just indifference to religion, it’s not just ignorance about religion, there’s also growing hostility to religion. At least the traditional religious beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code that is ascendant in some sectors.

The challenge for those who want to protect religious liberty in the United States, Europe and other similar places is to convince people who are not religious that religious liberty is worth special protection. That will not be easy to do.

And he followed this up with a bizarre scenario comparing a Green Bay Packers fan wanting to wear their preferred team's hat in a court where people were instructed not to wear anything on their head, next to a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke and a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. The moral of this story was supposed to be that the religious people deserve to wear their headgear while the sports fan does not, because of how religion deserves special protection. So unless the Green Bay Packers suddenly become invisible, believing in them does not give one the right to wear any particular sort of hat.

There is something particularly galling about a man who just took reproductive rights away from millions of Americans standing up there whining that "Oh no, the atheists are becoming hostile to religion and soon they'll take our religious liberty away!"

Except that's only a problem when one considers it their religious liberty to restrict the rights of others. That's the issue. That's why there's hostility. Alito is fully aware that his decision to overturn Roe was a religious one and not a constitutional one. If it were just constitutional, he would not have brought it up in his big speech about religious freedom. He didn't bring up any other decisions, just that one. The one that essentially allows religious people to control the personal medical decisions of those who do not share in their beliefs.

There is no hat-based hostility happening here. No one is mad about hats. People are mad and feeling hostile because people like Alito are trying to force their religion on them — which, let me just say, runs contrary to religious liberty as well. Alito has the right to believe in the Catholic religion, and I have the right to be an atheist. People have a right to their religion, they have a right to practice their religion, they do not have the right to force others to abide by the rules of their religion and they do not have the right to insist that the "traditional beliefs" of their religion be the dominant cultural norms. That's not the deal and it never has been.

World leaders are not being hostile to Samuel Alito for his religious beliefs, they are hostile to the idea of him forcing it on others, through the Supreme Court — which is not meant to be a religious body in the first place.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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