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Wednesday, April 10, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Scalia Blasts Skeptics Of Christian Beliefs -- High-Court Justice Eschews His Brethren's Restraint

Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered an ardent defense of religious beliefs against the assaults of secular society yesterday, telling a Jackson, Miss., audience that Christians must proclaim their belief in miracles and ignore the scorn of the "worldly wise."

In unusually sharp remarks for a Supreme Court justice, Scalia said the modern world dismisses Christians as fools for holding to their traditional beliefs.

But, "We are fools for Christ's sake," Scalia told the audience of more than 650, which responded with a standing ovation. "We must pray for the courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world."

In a speech laced with the sarcastic humor for which he is well-known, Scalia said, "The wise do not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is really quite absurd." Continuing in the same vein, he added, "So everything from the Easter morning to the Ascension had to be made up by the groveling enthusiasts as part of their plan to get themselves martyred."

Supreme Court justices typically speak in public about law, sometimes about politics or culture, but almost never about a sensitive topic such as religion.

In his legal opinions, Scalia has vigorously advocated a lower wall of separation between church and state. He favors clergy-led prayer at graduations and has voted for public-school funding of religiously affiliated programs.

Yesterday, Scalia, 60, a Roman Catholic, offered a scathing

portrayal of a society that is not merely skeptical but that also disparages religious belief and believers, specifically Christians.

Scalia noted that the word "cretin" was derived from the French word for "Christian."

"To be honest about it, that is the view of Christians taken by modern society," Scalia said. "Surely those who adhere to all or most of these traditional Christian beliefs are to be regarded as simple-minded."

Speaking harshly of those he termed "the worldly wise," the justice said, "they just will not have anything to do with miracles."

In emphasizing the importance of believing in miracles, Scalia referred to a 1992 Washington Post story about a priest who reported bleeding wounds resembling those Christ suffered during crucifixion.

"The Washington Post sends out a team of reporters who produce a strangely ambivalent story about this phenomenon," Scalia said. "The thought occurred to me: Why wasn't that church absolutely packed with nonbelievers? . . . Why weren't the Washington Post reporters, if they couldn't explain the phenomenon, absolute converts?"

The Post published accounts of witness reports of the Rev. James Bruse's wounds, called stigmata, in Prince William County, Va.

Some of the attendees contacted after the speech said they were surprised but pleased that Scalia was so personally revealing.

In Washington, James Dunn, executive director, of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, said he thought it was proper for the justice to be presenting his views but disagreed that Christians are persecuted.

"This is becoming a modern myth that religion is somehow persecuted in American life," Dunn said. "It's a right-wing litmus test. If you don't say religion is being beat up on, then you aren't pitifully correct. Everyone is competing to see who can whine the loudest. . . . If the American people were as anti-religious as everyone says, then a Supreme Court justice wouldn't have the right to run around saying things like that."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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