U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in March spoke to a Catholic lawyers’ association and promoted the idea, common among the Religious Right, that religious liberty is under attack in America.
“A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs,” Alito said, referencing the Bob Dylan song lyric, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
Alito referenced his own words from his dissent in the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. Alito said he had predicted the court’s decision would be used to “vilify those who disagree and treat them as bigots.”
He also spoke of people being spurred to action in response to Supreme Court decisions in cases such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, in which the court allowed a craft store chain to use a religious accommodation to avoid providing some forms of birth control in its employee health plan. Alito sided with the majority in the Hobby Lobby case.
“We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls,” Alito said. “But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom.”
Alito’s speech was sponsored by Advocati Christi, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges who seek to “provide an opportunity for lawyers (to) learn about the Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching and to help them integrate these into their life and practice,” according to the Associated Press.
Alito spoke of the hostility American Catholics have faced – including a reference to a Democratic legislator who Alito said opposed his Supreme Court nomination in 2005 because it would mean “too many Catholics on the court.” Alito said he was delighted when John F. Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic to be elected president in 1960: “I felt it had lifted me up from the status of second-class American.”
The event occurred on March 15 in Alito’s home state of New Jersey, where he previously served as a U.S. attorney and a member of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before he was nominated to the high court.
Writing on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog, AU Director of Communications Rob Boston took issue with Alito’s assertions.
“We are indeed engaged in a debate over religious freedom in America – but perhaps not the one Alito thinks we are,” Boston wrote. “We will either reaffirm our support for the traditional view of religious freedom as a precious right that enables you to choose for yourself but not make choices for others, or we will move toward a new definition of religious freedom, one that interprets that principle as a weapon that can be used to obliterate the rights of others.”