Speaking at Note Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Summit in Rome, Justice Alito — a practising Catholic — had taken some light jabs at foreign politicians and public figures including Prince Harry, Boris Johnson, and Justin Trudeau for their criticisms of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
His speech focused primarily on the issue of religious liberty, however, which figured prominently in other recent decisions, such as the one against the city of Philadelphia trying to stop children being placed with Catholic foster agencies because they would not give them to same-sex couples, and the decision against Boston preventing the raising of a Christian flag outside City Hall, among others — all of which have infuriated liberal secularists.
“A justice flying to the Holy See to take a victory lap for compelled school prayer, compelled public funding of religious schools and an understanding of pregnancy that’s inconsistent with science or the Hebrew Bible… is quite the capstone to what’s been a real (disappointing) term for those of us who support religious liberty but don’t want an instrument of the state to shove sectarianism down citizens’ throats,” fumed Gabe Roth, executive director of the Fix the Court group, generously described as “nonpartisan” by USA Today.
Justice Alito was further chastised for his Rome speech by Slate in a doom-laden article headlined ‘Alito’s Speech Mocking Foreign Leaders Has a Deeper, Darker Message’.
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Writers Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern painted Justice Alito’s speech as a “gleeful effort to decimate whatever remaining legitimacy the Supreme Court still possesses in the eyes of the secular, liberal world order” and accused him of “trolling American women, reproductive justice advocates, his liberal colleagues on the bench, and his international critics”.
Particular issue was taken with a segment of Justice Alito’s speech warning of a “growing hostility to religion, or at least the traditional religious beliefs that are contrary to the new moral code that is ascendant in some sectors.”
The “new moral code”, they insisted, was a dog-whistle for “the progressive values that define a flourishing liberal democracy: LGBTQ rights, women’s equality, secular public education, a humane criminal justice system–everything Alito despises.”
Justice Alito was also excoriated for referencing the suffering of early Christians in a world without religious liberty, when the Roman authorities executed St Peter and St Paul and threw ordinary believers to wild beasts, and for observing that the “Cultural Revolution did its best to destroy religion, but it was not successful. It could not extinguish the religious impulse” and, paraphrasing St Augustine, that “[o]ur hearts are restless until we rest in God, and, therefore, the champions of religious liberty who go out as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves can expect to find hearts that are open to their message.”
“If you are not very frightened by the prospect of a Supreme Court justice crossing the ocean in order to quote the Gospels to religious adherents of his own faith, who have business before the court, as he excoriates all who do not share his personal view of the primacy of religion as an organizing force in a political democracy, it’s difficult to know what could alarm you,” the Slate writers railed.