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Antonin Scalia, Christian

What a terrific comment from reader William Dalton:

More on the topic of profound Christianity of Antonin Scalia. It really was remarkable for a man of such prominence in secular America today.

A friend of mine preached at the funeral of Justice Lewis Powell in Richmond in 1998. In attendance were all the members of the Supreme Court, as well as many other dignitaries. Today he posted a letter he received after conducting that service. It was from Justice Scalia. This is it:

Supreme Court of the United States
Washington, D. C. 20543


September 1, 1998

Dr. James C. Goodloe
Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church
1627 Monument Avenue
Richmond, Virginia 23220-2925

Dear Dr. Goodloe:

I looked for you unsuccessfully at the luncheon following the funeral yesterday. I wanted to tell you how reverent and inspiring I found the service that you conducted.

In my aging years, I have attended so many funerals of prominent people that I consider myself a connoisseur of the genre. When the deceased and his family are nonbelievers, of course, there is not much to be said except praise for the departed who is no more. But even in Christian services conducted for deceased Christians , I am surprised at how often eulogy is the centerpiece of the service, rather than (as it was in your church) the Resurrection of Christ, and the eternal life which follows from that. I am told that, in Roman Catholic canon law, encomiums at funeral Masses are not permitted—though if that is the rule, I have never seen it observed except in the breach. I have always thought there is much to be said for such a prohibition, not only because it spares from embarrassment or dissembling those of us about whom little good can truthfully be said, but also because, even when the deceased was an admirable person—indeed, especially when the deceased was an admirable person—praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for, and giving thanks for, God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. (My goodness, that seems more like a Presbyterian thought than a Catholic one!)

Perhaps the clergymen who conduct relatively secular services are moved by a desire not to offend the nonbelievers in attendance—whose numbers tend to increase in proportion to the prominence of the deceased. What a great mistake. Weddings and funerals (but especially funerals) are the principal occasions left in modern America when you can preach the Good News not just to the faithful, but to those who have never really heard it.

Many thanks, Dr. Goodloe, for a service that did honor to Lewis and homage to God. It was a privilege to sit with your congregation. Best regards.


Antonin Scalia

What a man. What a man.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Facebook page on which the letter first appeared. [1]

65 Comments (Open | Close)

65 Comments To "Antonin Scalia, Christian"

#1 Comment By William Dalton On February 18, 2016 @ 11:11 am

panda and alemo:

Voter ID is not for proof of citizenship. It is proof of identity – that you are the person who registered to vote. Proof of citizenship and residency is required in order to register and be placed on the roll of eligible voters.

The 24th Amendment barred use of a poll tax as a prerequisite for voting. It did not bar a process of registration and proof of registration in order to ensure eligibility to vote. The steps necessary to obtain a voter I.D. are no more onerous than those required to get a driver’s license, and pace the 24th Amendment, they waive the test and fee requirements. To most Americans a driver’s license is more essential than registration to vote. More Americans drive than vote. And yet I have never heard a complaint that our driver registration laws, even with testing, fees, and long lines to stand in, are discriminatory. Complaints about voter I.D. laws are spurious and clearly partisan – only one side benefits by lax enforcement of the requirement of registration.

#2 Comment By William Dalton On February 18, 2016 @ 11:28 am

“Rod, the point is that if you go to a funeral to honor a dead person, and it’s all about Jesus instead, yeah I can see an atheist getting angry. OP was curious why on earth, but the atheist isn’t going there to get preached at, but to make peace with the departed friend. If the “Give glory to Jesus” gets too much, it can be pretty cruel.

“That, and the fact the atheist might be grieving too, might explain it.”

A funeral is too late to “make peace” with a departed friend. It is timely to make peace with God. That is why a funeral sermon is aimed towards encouraging that crucial necessity in the process of grieving. The reason the atheist grieves at a funeral is because it reminds him that death waits for him and he is without hope. The sermon gives him that hope, if he will receive it.

#3 Comment By William Dalton On February 18, 2016 @ 11:41 am


“Scalia did turn down plausible evidence of actual innocence as a reason for appellate courts to over-rule convictions when there was no legal error in the manner the trial was conducted.”

I don’t believe Justice Scalia “turned down” proffered evidence of innocence as a reason to reopen hearings on sentences of death handed down in Constitutionally conducted trials. What he “turned down” was the argument that the Constitution requires state courts to reopen hearings on those sentences on that basis. Because, in fact, there is nothing in the Constitution which requires that. This is the first thing that non-lawyers have to get straight about, not only Scalia, but all Constitutional jurisprudence. The question for the judge is not whether a state action is wise, or good or just, it is only whether the Constitution forbids or requires it. It is the duty of others to correct defects in the wisdom, goodness and justice in our laws.

#4 Comment By William Dalton On February 18, 2016 @ 11:58 am

“It looks like President Obama is skipping out on the chance for a blessing:


In watching the video of Justice Powell’s funeral I notice that President Clinton wasn’t in attendance either. In conversing with Dr. Goodloe on this point, I learned that his church, too, had wondered whether the President would attend. When he noticed that there were swarms of U.S. Marshals scouring his church building in preparation for the event, but no Secret Service, he had his answer. He said the church was undergoing extensive renovations at the time, but that they took down the scaffolding which had been erected around the building to avoid the possibility of a sniper ascending it with murderous intent to disrupt the service.

I don’t question the President’s wisdom in avoiding as many public events as possible. His presence is always an inconvenience, at best, for everyone else involved. I only pity all who hold that office and what the times we live in constrain them to do.

#5 Comment By panda On February 18, 2016 @ 12:47 pm

“To most Americans a driver’s license is more essential than registration to vote. More Americans drive than vote. And yet I have never heard a complaint that our driver registration laws, even with testing, fees, and long lines to stand in, are discriminatory. Complaints about voter I.D. laws are spurious and clearly partisan – only one side benefits by lax enforcement of the requirement of registration.”

To most Americans, drivers’ licenses are more essential than voter registration, true.

1. For a minority of Americans- as much as 5% of registered voters in some states, this obviously untrue, as they are both registered and lack drivers licences.
2. Driving is not a right. Voting is, according to a number of constitutional amendments.

Again, we see a guy who, based on his previous postings is an adamant constitutional conservative, suddenly becomes a utilitarian when it comes to provisions of the constitution that don’t sound right..

#6 Comment By panda On February 18, 2016 @ 12:49 pm

“The reason the atheist grieves at a funeral is because it reminds him that death waits for him and he is without hope. The sermon gives him that hope, if he will receive it.”

You know what- I agree with you that complaining about a funeral is profoundly wrong, but you are kinda living and breathing caricature of the kind religious person that made “nones” the faster growing demographic in this country.

#7 Comment By dominic1955 On February 18, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

William Dalton,

That is the other reason the atheist probably didn’t much care for it-it implicitly calls him on his belief system. His response sounds like a “thou dost protest too much”. If he’s really an atheist, the Jesus talk should just roll off of him like water on a duck.

If one is solid in their beliefs, they don’t get all huffy when exposed to contrary beliefs. I once sat through a hour long harangue from an SDA pastor on the evils of the Whore of Babylon and her Mystery Religion (i.e. The Catholic Church) with a perfectly serene countenance. Doesn’t ruffle my feathers any, I’ve done my research and their story is seriously lacking in veracity even from a secularist view on history.

#8 Comment By DeclineTheEnjoy On February 18, 2016 @ 8:42 pm

“[NFR: Since when do people have a right to demand that religious services for the dead be made to accommodate their own sensibilities? Good grief, what a narcissistic point. — RD]”

I don’t think I’m communicating my point well. Maybe an analogy?

Let’s say you go to church one morning, expecting to hear about Jesus. Instead, the preacher talks about this guy named Fred a lot. It’s obvious he thinks Fred is really cool, and while he does talk about Jesus some, it’s in an attempt to get you to think of Fred and consider being his friend. If he’s really bad, it’s transparent he’s using the sermons about Jesus to convert you to Fred friendship. If it’s not bad, maybe he gently reminds us that Fred is there and we should remember that. (Analogy breaks down here, as mentioned the hope of the resurrection) But you are a little annoyed even then because you came for Jesus.

I don’t know if you can call that demanding. Donald is right in that I don’t know the situation and it can be churlish. But you’re also there to mourn the departed, not hear about how majestic God or Jesus is.

William unconsciously illustrated this in his reply. They are there to make peace with the fact the departed is gone, only to have the lens of conversion turned on them. I hope this will help understand the mindset some. It’s not always “religion must be stopped!”

[NFR: You are communicating your point very well. It’s just that I think you’re very wrong, and not only wrong, but also bizarrely wrong. **This is how many Christians mourn their dead.** It’s not about you (or your friend)! My father was a Freemason, and requested his funeral service be a Masonic graveside service. It’s not what I would have done, and not what I would have had done for him, and parts of it made me personally uncomfortable. But you know what? He was a Freemason, and believed in its principles. He was buried with the services he chose, in the tradition to which he was committed. That’s how Freemasons bury their dead. Honoring my father and his memory was why I was there at the graveside for his funeral service, and it would have been a cheap and selfish thing had I bitched about how I didn’t want to hear all that Deist stuff at the funeral, but rather just wanted to hear about Daddy. I was hearing about Daddy when the Masons performed their ritual. That was who he was. That was how he wanted to be remembered. If you have a Catholic, or Muslim, or Jewish friend, and they are buried in the rites of their faith, then if you loved and respected your friend, as long as you are not required to perform any act that violates your own conscience, you should have the decency not to complain about having to accommodate yourself to the traditions of your friend. It’s disrespectful and narcissistic, and I can’t really believe we are having this discussion. — RD]

#9 Comment By DeclinetheEnjoy On February 19, 2016 @ 3:04 am

And if freemasonry is obnoxious about reducing the deceased to a cipher in order to promote deism, yeah I’d be mad too. That’s the point, it’s one thing to have a religious service, it’s another to make it all about Jesus and the deceased is just a tool or nonentity to preach on. Christians just have a particular talent for it because of the constant emphasis on praising God no matter what happens.

Too many Christians talk crap about loving people when they really just see people as types to fit into their big cosmic drama. I was guilty of that, and man, I regret some of the stupid things I said. It’s not “hearing about daddy” when he is subsumed into being a cog into that mechanism. I’m not objecting to the religious nature of the service, but the dehumanizing of the person in order to fit the drama. As long as the deceased isn’t being used, religion isn’t the issue. Or lack of it.

You’re perfectly within your rights to complain about that.

[NFR: I’m going to bow out of this discussion, but I will simply say that the idea that one has “rights to complain” about the way people of a religion not your own mourn the dead strikes me as utterly narcissistic, extremely rude, and perfectly American. — RD]

#10 Comment By TR On February 19, 2016 @ 9:04 am

Scalia’s faults and virtues have been debated here and elsewhere at length.

For this particular item, perhaps we can all agree that it is a magnificently written letter and that it shows he was indeed a real Christian, not one professing same to get elected.

If all his letters are this good, I hope a selection of them will be published.

#11 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 19, 2016 @ 8:43 pm

William Dalton, do you consider it “due process of law” that a court receives clear affirmative evidence that a convicted man is innocent of a crime, and refuses to consider that evidence or even stay his sentence of execution? Really?

The GENERAL principle you outline is correct. But when an inferior court has in its possession evidence of innocence, and declines to entertain it, there is work for superior courts to do.

This isn’t about overruling an act of congress. No act of congress forbids a court to receive evidence of actual innocence. Quite the contrary, in foreclosing a large volume of appeals deemed to be frivolous (and many of them were), congress singled out claims of “actual innocence” as grounds for taking an appeal seriously.

I vote for Rod’s position on the content of a memorial service. The affiliations of the deceased and their family are what they are, the service is what it is, and if you want to be there, take it as it comes. Freedom of association alone renders a carping outside criticism irrelevant.

I vote for TR’s summation also.

#12 Comment By Hibernian On February 20, 2016 @ 11:32 am

@ Siarlys Jenkins

It’s the Governor’s job in such a case to grant the accused a pardon if he is innocent or a stay of execution if the issue is in doubt.

#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 20, 2016 @ 9:54 pm

So it is Hibernian, but that hardly takes the courts off the hook. Nor are governors notably attentive to this duty.

#14 Comment By JonF On February 22, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

Re: It did not bar a process of registration and proof of registration in order to ensure eligibility to vote. The steps necessary to obtain a voter I.D. are no more onerous than those required to get a driver’s license, and pace the 24th Amendment, they waive the test and fee requirements.

You are ignorant of the requirements of the RealID Act, now the law of the land, which can impose a real burden on a small fraction of the population*– fees which are NOT waived.
I would be OK with an ID requirement, but only if the IUD is something that can be obtained easily with one and only one stop, say, at the local post office or some other ubiquitous government office.

* I have a friend who could not get a drivers license in Maryland because his birth certificate was not seen as valid– and no, he did not look like some shady foreigner trying to put one over. (He was able to get a license in Delaware when he moved over the state line– in part because of that snafu) Heck for years there’s was some potential awkwardness with my drivers license applications since my middle name was not included on my Social Security record, but is on my birth certificate and passport.

#15 Comment By William Dalton On February 22, 2016 @ 5:27 pm

Timothy George has picked up on Justice Scalia’s letter expounding on funerals, publishing in “First Things”. He also offers this quotation from Jim Goodloe’s sermon, which I think is as well worth remembering as the Justice’s sage words:

“We rejoice in Christ’s resurrection as the promise of our own, as the promise of resurrection of those whom we love, and as the promise of the resurrection of Justice Powell. Death pretends to be Lord over us. It’s not. God alone is the Lord over our lives. Death tries to have the last word about who we are. It doesn’t. God has plans for our lives that even death cannot destroy. Death struts its seeming great power, but its power is broken. To Christ belongs the victory. Though death will lay claim to all of us, it will not hold us all, for we do not belong to death. We belong to God in life, we belong to God in death, and we continue to belong to God in that new life on the other side of death.”