On Thursday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito slammed same-sex marriage as a threat to religious freedom in an inflammatory speech before a conservative legal society over Zoom.
Alito was delivering remarks at an annual conference of the Federalist Society, a legal organization that has been engaged in a decades-long effort to groom young conservative lawyers for the federal bench, with the dual purpose of advancing “strict constructionist” approaches to law and changing the wider culture through their rulings.
Throughout his speech, Alito sought to cast social conservatives as a wronged group that is unfairly being persecuted because of their beliefs, often rooted in religion, opposing left-wing cultural values like support for abortion or same-sex marriage.
Alito specifically focused on two “religious liberty” cases that have come before the court in recent years: one, involving whether the Little Sisters of the Poor should be forced to pay for health insurance plans that provide coverage for contraceptives; and the other, involving the Colorado-based Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which the proprietor, Jim Phillips, refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because of his personal religious beliefs opposing homosexuality.
Justice Alito said “a great many Americans disagree, sometimes quite strongly” with the views of the Little Sisters and Phillips, and “have a perfect right to do so.”
But he said the cases raised questions about whether society writ-large, and, even more problematically, government actors, would begin to favor a particular viewpoint and begin to censor speech or impose punishments on those who hold differing views, reports CNN.
He also criticized liberals who believe they may be winning the culture war who adopt the stance of “you lost, live with it” when dealing with those who disagree with them, including many Christians.
“For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and can’t be tolerated, even when there is no evidence that anybody has been harmed,” Alito said. “The question we face is whether our society will be inclusive enough to tolerate people with unpopular religious beliefs.”
He argued that the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, had fueled intolerance toward those with beliefs opposing homosexuality, according to Slate.
“You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” lamented Alito. “Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now, it’s considered bigotry. That this would happen after our decision in Obergefell should not come as a surprise. … I could see, and so did the other justices in dissent, where the decision would lead.
“I wrote the following: ‘I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes. But if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools,” Alito continued.
“That is just what is coming to pass: one of the great challenges for the Supreme Court going forward will be to protect freedom of speech. Although that freedom is falling out of favor in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second-tier constitutional right.”
Here is Justice Alito complaining that the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision has crushed the free speech of anti-LGBTQ advocates. pic.twitter.com/0eH9QsxMTU
Alito minimized the significance of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, such as Phillips’ refusal to bake a cake in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, noting that the couple behind the lawsuit was given a free cake by another bakery and received support from “celebrity chefs.”
He also railed against lockdowns and restrictive executive orders imposed by governors to try and curb the spread of COVID-19, claiming such restrictions infringed on people’s individual liberty. And he echoed grievances voiced by other conservatives claiming that conservative legal scholars are being attacked for resisting attempts to indoctrinate them in left-wing viewpoints, reports Politico.
“Unfortunately, tolerance for opposing views is now in short supply in many law schools and in the broader academic community,” Alito said. “When I speak with recent law school graduates, what I hear over and over is that they face harassment and retaliation if they say anything that departs from the law school orthodoxy.”
This is not the first time Alito has cast same-sex marriage as threat to religious liberty. Last month, he joined Justice Clarence Thomas in dissenting from the high court’s refusal to hear the case of a Kentucky Clerk who is being sued in her individual capacity by some couples to whom she refused to issue marriage licenses. Both justices claimed the court would have to revisit the same-sex marriage issue and resolve the conflicts between same-sex marriage and religious freedom.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, blasted Alito’s comments.
“Last night, Justice Alito shed any pretense of impartiality in a politically charged speech, again attacking the Obergefell decision,” David tweeted. “Justice Alito: our love and our marriages are valid. There is no tension between full equality and religious liberty.”
Last night, Justice Alito shed any pretense of impartiality in a politically charged speech, again attacking the Obergefell decision.
Justice Alito: our love and our marriages are valid. There is no tension between full equality and religious liberty. https://t.co/s6kZdeUOb2
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