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Supreme Court justice urges Christians to live fearlessly

By PENNY BROWN ROBERTS, Advocate staff writer

ADVOCATE, Baton Rouge Louisiana, January 23, 2005

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday that people of faith should not fear being viewed by "educated circles" as "fools for Christ."

The justice -- in Baton Rouge to address the Knights of Columbus Council 969 centennial celebration without charging a fee -- told a largely Roman Catholic crowd of 350 at the Holiday Inn Select that there's nothing  wrong with "traditional Christianity."

"To believe in traditional Christianity is something else," Scalia said. "For the son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe  that he rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous. To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will  rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell?

"God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and he has not been disappointed."

Scalia praised "traditional Catholics" who say the rosary, go on pilgrimages, kneel during the Eucharist and "follow religiously the teaching of the pope," adding that "intellect and reason need not be laid aside for religion. It is not irrational to accept the testimony of eyewitnesses who had nothing to gain. There is something wrong with rejecting a priori (deductively) the existence of miracles."

The outspoken conservative justice -- known for his views on religion  in America -- didn't shy from them during his visit to south Louisiana Saturday. He didn't discuss any specific issues before the high court, but did tell those in attendance they had "no greater model" for their faith than St. Thomas More.

The Catholic martyr and considered the patron saint of lawyers, repudiated Martin Luther and refused to endorse King Henry VIII's plan to divorce Katherine of Aragon or recognize the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. More was found guilty of treason and beheaded in 1535.

"I find it hard to understand people who revere Thomas More but who themselves selectively oppose the teachings of the pope," said Scalia, widely cited as a potential nominee for the position of chief justice when William Rehnquist leaves the bench.

"If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to  have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world."

President Ronald named Scalia to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982. Four years later, Scalia was nominated and unanimously confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court, taking the seat vacated when was elevated to the court's top post.

The Catholic justice -- raised in the New York City Borough of Queens, and the father of nine children, one of them a priest -- has become an anti-abortion hero to many in the American political right and a leading conservative voice on the court.

He has described himself as an "originalist," following the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, rather than interpreting it to reflect the changing times.

In November, while speaking to an interfaith conference at a Manhattan synagogue, Scalia made headlines by saying that a religion-neutral government does not fit with an America that reflects belief in God in everything from its money to its military.

More than a year ago, he removed himself from the Supreme Court's review of whether "under God" should be in the Pledge of Allegiance after mentioning the case in a speech and complaining that courts are stripping God from public life.

Last year, Scalia cast one of two dissenting votes in a 7-2 Supreme Court ruling that states may deny taxpayer-funded scholarships to divinity students. And in 2000, he stood with a majority of the court in upholding the constitutionality of taxpayer funding for parochial school materials in a Jefferson Parish case.

Louis McHardy, a Baton Rouge native who is retired executive director of the Nevada-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, called Scalia "one of the nation's heroes."

"His message to me is that our constitution is all-encompassing," said McHardy, who attended Saturday's banquet. "It takes into consideration all points of view."

Rev. Miles Walsh, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church and Knights of Columbus chaplain, said Scalia's address convinced him that the justice is "committed to the transcendent principles he believes in."

The Knights of Columbus Baton Rouge Council 969 was founded in January 1905 by 30 men who were charter members. The organization founded the LSU Catholic Center, and over the years has supported orphanages, mental health facilities and hospitals.








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