Carrying On: What would Scalia say?

February 20, 2014

The first time I ever visited the Supreme Court, I ended up talking to Scalia while double-fisting two glasses of wine. To be fair, only one glass was mine. But I was 19, and I conveniently failed to correct the Supreme Court justice when he assumed I was a “first year” at Georgetown’s law school.

As a freshman undergrad, that night was a dream come true. Not because I drank underage in the nation’s highest court, but because I met one of my favorite sitting justices. Yes, Scalia is a bigot. But he’s also brilliant. I may have repurposed my convocation robe to dress up as Ruth Bader Ginsberg—my favorite Supreme Court justice—this Halloween, but Scalia still fascinates me.

Perhaps part of this interest derives from Scalia’s ability to absolutely enrage people, all while maintaining an artful wit. He was, after all, a member of both Philodemic and Mask and Bauble back when he attended Georgetown as an undergraduate. You see this practiced dramatism in every one of his dissents. In Lee v. Weismann, a 1992 case addressing religious prayer at public school graduations, he wrote: “I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our … jurisprudence regarding holiday displays has come to ‘requir[e] scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary.’ But interior decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs.” As always, Scalia’s sass is palpable.

One issue the Supreme Court justice never injects comedy into, however, is his alma mater. Instead, he just seems sadly disappointed whenever he discusses Georgetown. Last year at UVA, he engaged in the classic “Is Georgetown Catholic enough?” debate. Reminiscing on the golden days, he said, “When I was at Georgetown, it was a very Catholic place. It’s not anymore—and that’s too bad.”

Perhaps Georgetown is not a Catholic university anymore—because it is so much more than that now. Georgetown is a Muslim university. It is a Jewish university. It is a Christian university, a Hindu university, and a Greek Orthodox university as well.

Georgetown is as Catholic as you want it to be, but what separates the Hilltop from both public and other private universities is its particular brand of religiosity. Georgetown embraces the search for faith—all searches for faith—rather than handing its students a well-drawn map. It acknowledges that we’re all trekking different terrains. And this religious inclusion has been a part of our history since the school’s founding. While it took quite a while to build up the religious diversity we now have at Georgetown, our university has welcomed people of all faiths since its doors opened in 1789.

I didn’t give much thought to the fact that Georgetown was Catholic when I applied here four years ago. I was enthralled by the Hogwarts-esque campus, I nerded out over the International Relations offerings, and I imagined myself living in the Washington, D.C. of the West Wing. But just as in high school, when I landed on an all-girls campus without wondering how that would impact my latent feminism, I’ve found myself surprised by Georgetown’s religiosity.

Of course, we all take our two mandatory theology classes. But Georgetown’s commitment to faith rings stronger than six credit hours on our transcripts. Smiti Mohan, one of my old housemates, phrased what happens at Georgetown perfectly: “Who on Earth would think that college kids would go to Shabbat, or Jumu’ah, or Puja, or Mass every week?” At Georgetown, it’s not strange to go to religious services, especially when they’re not your own. We drag friends to holidays, trip over the pronunciations of transliterated prayers, and crash services for the food paid for by Campus Ministry.

The engagement in religious life on this campus makes the debate about whether Georgetown is “Catholic enough” seem either mildly offensive or horribly silly. At the heart of his argument, Scalia lamented that students nowadays are afraid to express their religious curiosity. “You’ve always got to be open to discussing your faith,” the justice said at UVA. “Be eager to discuss it.” Perhaps I’m blind, but that eagerness is exactly what I see at Georgetown.

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You wrote, “Yes, Scalia is a bigot.” Webster’s defines the word “bigot” as follows:”a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc. : a bigoted person; especially : a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).” Focusing on the first part of this definition, I wouldn’t doubt that there are some “other people” and “ideas” that Scalia “strongly . . . dislikes.” But as much could be said of nearly any other person; we all have people and ideas we don’t like. I think the key to the first part of the definition is the word “unfairly.” I also think the more significant part of the definition is the second one. With that said, can you identify a single instance in which Justice Scalia has demonstrated that he “hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group,” or that his dislike of someone or something is “unfair”?