Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Scalia Says Americans Misread Founders

But despite an appearance the day before by another prominent Hoya – former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) – Scalia still packed Gaston Hall for a keynote address that called for a return to the nation’s constitutional roots and criticized “activist” judges for restricting American religious education.

Scalia, who spoke as part of a forum on civic education, said the theory of a “living constitution” had crippled students’ ability to relate to the founding fathers by removing religion from the classroom. Without religion, morality and civic virtue can be taught only with difficulty, he said.

“The founders were as interested in teaching virtue as in teaching civics,” Scalia said, attacking the “demonstrably unhistorical view that the Constitution forbids not just the favoring of one religion over another but even the favoring of religion in general over non-religion.”

Scalia, regarded as one of the Court’s most conservative justices, also lamented college and law students’ lack of knowledge about the America’s founding, and said recent judicial rulings departing from the Constitution’s text had been “a factor in the obfuscation.” He spent much of his lecture quoting from documents written at the founding, interspersing his narrations with quips and asides and drawing frequent applause and laughter from the near-capacity crowd.

“By all accounts and observations the current understanding [of the founding] is pretty shallow,” Scalia said. “Who cares what Hamilton, Madison and Jay thought?” he asked sarcastically.

Speaking from the stage where, as a student, he performed in the ask & Bauble dramatic society, Scalia also addressed topics ranging from the 2000 Bush v. Gore case to his recent votes against new campaign finance restrictions and state legalization of medical marijuana use.

“My first response to that question always is, `It’s six years ago; get over it,'” Scalia responded to a student asking whether the Court’s decision to halt recounts in the disputed 2000 presidential election qualified as “activist.”

“The response is that it surely is not activist to apply the text of the Constitution, which is what the Court did,” he continued, adding that the country had already waited for a resolution “for about a month while the whole world was laughing at us.”

Scalia also criticized the Court’s approval of new restrictions on campaign donations, arguing that the First Amendment protects political speech and the money used to fund it.

“It is not designed solely to protect pornography,” he said of the First Amendment. “Money isn’t speech, but you cannot have effective speech if you do not allow the speech to be funded.”

Scalia spoke as part of the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, which continues today with three campus panels on civic education.

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