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Austin Cline

Antonin Scalia: Government Derives Authority From God

By March 11, 2005

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Should America be a theocracy? Some think so and openly advocate it. Others think so and make their case more subtly, promoting doctrines that encourage theocratic attitudes without openly admitting that they seek the elimination of basic democratic principles and liberties.

Ed Brayton quotes from Scalia during the oral arguments of the Ten Commandments case:

You know, I think probably 90 percent of the American people believe in the Ten Commandments, and I'll bet you that 85 percent of them couldn't tell you what the ten are. And when somebody goes by that monument, I don't think they're studying each one of the commandments. It's a symbol of the fact that government comes -- derives its authority from God. And that is, it seems to me, an appropriate symbol to be on State grounds.

As Brayton notes, this is factually incorrect. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence make it clear that governments derive their authority from human beings, not from gods. The idea that a government is a divine institution was, in fact, one of the things that the American Revolution was launched to fight against.

From the Constitution:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed...

Scalia's claim is not only wrong, but deeply immoral because it would mean that people who do not believe in his god are in some fashion outsiders from the political community. It's wrong for the state to declare that the foundation of the government is a set of theological propositions which are not and cannot be accepted by significant religious minorities. Scalia's claim is fit only for a theocracy, not a democratic republic which values religious liberty.

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Comments
June 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm
(1) Mike Nichols says:

Scalia isn’t wrong. Scalia isn’t advocating a theocracy, democratic or otherwise. Scalia was stating the obvious, that the roots of the rule of law in this and other civilized countries, whether anti-Christians such as yourself want to admit it or not, are traced directly to the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law. That you are too biased to admit that is indicative of the lengths to which you will go to deny the beliefs of the founders of this nation. They didn’t found a theocracy; they founded a democracy whose guiding principles are unequivocally and inarguably founded in biblical principles. You don’t like that? Tough. You can’t do anything to change it.

June 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm
(2) Austin Cline says:

Scalia isn’t wrong.

Then you should be able to directly address my critiques.

Scalia was stating the obvious, that the roots of the rule of law in this and other civilized countries, whether anti-Christians such as yourself want to admit it or not, are traced directly to the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law.

If that were true, you’d have been able to provide evidence to support it.

June 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm
(3) Katvilani says:

@Mike Nichols

If you really believe that the ten commandments are the basis of democracy, you must be delusonial. The First comandment would basically make it a crime to worship other gods, The third would make blasphemy a crime and the 4th would make working on the sabbath a crime amd according to the bible the penalty for those crimes was and is still Death at the hands of your friends and neighbors. So grab your shoulders and pull real hard to extract your head from that cavern before you suffocate.

June 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm
(4) Bigdowner says:

MIKE NICHOLS: “You donít like that? Tough. You canít do anything to change it.”

AUSTIN CLINE: “Then you should be able to directly address my critiques.”

I would advise Mr. Nichols to directly address Mr. Cline’s challenge using a similar debate tactic as the one he so skillfully displayed in his initial post. Perhaps along the lines of “Nanny Nanny Nanny Goat” or as a contingency he could defer to one of his “go-to / failsafe” arguments – ” I know you are but what am I?” Either or both are certain to be as effective as his opening remarks.

June 23, 2012 at 8:54 am
(5) Austin Cline says:

I would advise Mr. Nichols to directly address Mr. Cline’s challenge using a similar debate tactic as the one he so skillfully displayed in his initial post.

You mean, point out specific statements of Scalia’s which are false, then demonstrate, though factual evidence, how and they are false? Then add an explanation for why asserting those claims was not just false, but immoral?

Yeah, that would be a great approach to take. It would be unusual, too, since it’s so rare for Christians to actually adopt such an approach when addressing atheists’ arguments.

Perhaps along the lines of “Nanny Nanny Nanny Goat” or as a contingency he could defer to one of his “go-to / failsafe” arguments – ” I know you are but what am I?” Either or both are certain to be as effective as his opening remarks.

Hmmmmm…. maybe the reason why it’s so rare to see fact-based arguments and rebuttals is that people simply can’t recognize what they are or what their value is, even when they are staring a person right in the face.

That would certainly explain a lot…

June 23, 2012 at 2:46 am
(6) John Thomson says:

How sad is it that one of the Nine Surpremes doesn’t understand our Constitution. “Wehe people…

June 23, 2012 at 6:18 am
(7) Grandpa_In_The_East says:

To Mike Nicholes:

This world was “blessed” with civilizations hundreds of years before the time of Moses, if he even existed at all, which is most unlikely.

Grandpa

P.S. I believe the Bible contains 613 commandments of which only 10 are designated as the “Ten Commandments,” of which you are most probably unfamiliar: Exodus 34-28 King James Version.

June 23, 2012 at 10:22 am
(8) JTL says:

@Mike Nichols:

People like you, Mr. Nichols scare me. The reason is because you have apparently swallowed the Republican/Right-Wing indoctrination hook, line and sinker. The United States of America is a REACTION to faith-based governments. Ask Thomas Jefferson. I mean REALLY research Thomas Jefferson and his writings—not the hearsay that is promulgated by many Americans today. The USA has to have laws that treat EVERYONE the same, no matter what their background may be. The USA is not a theocracy and it never was. I think you’d be surprised at just how many of the “framers” were atheists. The USA does not legislate “morality” and we have no laws governing “status”. In other words, the USA does not punish people for merely being who they are, such as gay or Jewish, for example. We don’t have laws about that type of thing. The reason being that laws of that nature would allow one particular group to take over, much like “conservatives” in the USA are attempting to take over right now.

June 26, 2012 at 1:17 am
(9) Michael Rudas says:

The Ten Commandments are not the basis of U.S. law, or the Constitution. Not just because the first four commandments are religious in nature (and there is no religion in the Constitution) but because the secular parts are both easily traceable to the Code of Hammurabi, which predates the Bible. What I find most amusing is that what is usually called the 4th Commandment, which starts “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” is honored entirely in the breach. The Sabbath is defined as (basically) Saturday, but Christians ignore this and go to church on Sunday instead, the day that was holy to Mithras. When did God make the change, and why didn’t he fix the Bible?

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