Justice Samuel Alito recently delivered the keynote speech at Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Summit in Rome.
The justice’s participation in the conference came as a surprise to many, since his speaker role had not been announced in advance.
He is one of the present Supreme Court’s most fervent advocates of religious freedom.
As a member of the highest court in the land and as a Catholic Christian himself, he has firsthand knowledge of the importance of faith in a higher power and the freedom to express it, both to the individual and to the greater society at large.
The justice used the occasion of his Rome summit appearance to express his concern over potential effects that may result from a “growing hostility to religion.”
In addition to the highly publicized Roe reversal, the Supreme Court upheld religious rights in a number of rulings in which Justice Alito was with the majority.
– Kennedy v. Bremerton protected the right of a high school football coach to lead students in prayer at games.
– Carson v. Makin determined that the state of Maine cannot discriminate in the funding of tuition at religious schools.
– Morrissey v. Beru held that anti-discrimination laws cannot force religious schools to ignore incompatible beliefs of teachers.
– Shurtleff v. Boston ruled that Boston’s City Hall was not entitled to maintain a policy disallowing religious flags.
During his speech, Justice Alito expressed concern that as the world becomes more secular in nature, people will no longer understand the vital role that religion plays in society.
Additionally, if there is a growth of secularism in society and a simultaneous reduction of religious involvement, the free exercise of religion will be in jeopardy.
Emphasizing that the decline of faith in the Western world has contributed to an antagonism toward religious traditions, which conflict with the trending moral relativism held by a sizable segment of society, Justice Alito stated the following:
“The problem that looms is not just indifference to religion, it’s not just ignorance about religion. There’s also 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.”
He remarked that religious liberty is “under attack” by those who seek complete power.
The drive to obtain power over others is in direct opposition to the values that religious beliefs instill, which presents an enormous obstacle for those who seek to achieve such power.
He also pointed out that Christians have been persecuted for centuries. He listed examples from history in which faith-filled individuals endured horrific torture, such as that which occurred at the Colosseum.
He reminded audience members, too, about Nero’s purported macabre use of Christians “as human torches.”
Moving forward in history, Justice Alito stated that despite the persecution of the past “more Christians are killed for their faith in our time than in the bloody days of the Roman Empire.”
He discussed the current challenge for religious liberty in the United States and Europe, where large percentages of the population have abandoned religion and are therefore no longer interested in safeguarding it.
“Unless the people can be convinced that robust religious liberty is worth protecting, it will not endure,” he warned.
He also included in his talk the tragic treatment of people of various other faiths, including the victims of the Holocaust, the slaughter of Yazidi in Iraq by Isis, and China’s “unspeakable treatment” of the Uyghurs.
Justice Alito has been an integral member of the Supreme Court since 2006. He has authored majority opinions in numerous landmark cases, including the one that is now most familiar to the public, the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
As an assistant solicitor general in the 1980s, he argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court, winning 10 of them.
Recognized as an ardent seeker of justice, after an FBI agent was shot in the line of duty in 1988, Justice Alito assigned himself to the case and secured the shooter’s conviction by personally handling the trial.
During the same year, he sought the re-hearing of extradition proceedings against two foreign nationals who were accused of being terrorist assassins. He had uncovered that death threats the prosecutor had received were actually sent to her by herself.
In the recent keynote speech in Rome, he raised the hackles of the compromised press and left-wing social media, when he made some humorous remarks about foreign leaders who had suddenly become legal analysts of the Dobbs opinion.
The objects of his lighthearted barbs included outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Prince Harry, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“I had the honor 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,” Justice Alito said, adding, “One of these was former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but he paid the price.”
As the audience broke into applause and laughter, he quipped, “Post hoc ergo propter hoc, right?” a reference to the logical fallacy that creates a questionable causal relationship between two events that follow each other in time.
The justice kidded about a speech that Prince Harry gave at the United Nations in which the royal tried to give a lecture on American jurisprudence and described the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Roe as a “rolling back of constitutional rights” in the U.S.
“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 said.
The reaction of many leftists to Justice Alito’s speech suggests that the reason hostility against him continues may be because he remains delightfully unfazed by their hate campaign. In fact, he consistently projects a personal optimism and professional demeanor.
One theme of his speech that truly stands out was meant to inform and/or remind people of how fragile religious freedom really is.
“We can’t assume that the religious liberty we enjoy today will always endure,” he said.
He encouraged us all to be bold in our advocacy of freedom of religion, and in closing gave us the following scriptural reference to cling to:
“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.”
Words to live by and to share.