The current rage in the media is the burning question: “Did Antonin Scalia make an obscene gesture to a reporter in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.” My first reaction to this story was “It must be a slow news day.” I had a hard time believing that this story was really all the interesting or newsworthy. It has a life of its own though and practically every news outlet in the country has something about it.
The origin of this story is a Boston Herald story by Laurel J. Sweet. In the article she describes an encounter with Justice Scalia just after he had taken communion at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. When asked about the criticism he gets for publicly celebrating his Roman Catholic faith. He made a hand gesture of flicking the fingers of his hand against the underside of his chin.
The facts of the gesture he made aren’t in question. The wildfire in the media is in defining what the gesture means. I will admit that prior to this article and the aftermath I probably thought this gesture is, if not obscene, at least very rude. I’m not sure now because there are apparently many different definitions for it. But honestly when reading the article I was struck by the following quote by Justice Scalia:
Its none of their business, continued Scalia, who was the keynote speaker at yesterdays Catholic Lawyers Guild luncheon. This is my spiritual life. I shall lead it the way I like.
My reaction is that the judge is absolutely correct. What good is a First Amendment guaranteeing the Freedom of Religion if government employees are prohibited from exercising it? The whole point of the clause in the First Amendment is to prevent the government from legislating a religion for the people of the United States. Why would a Supreme Court Justice sworn to faithfully interpret those laws be in the wrong for practicing his religion? And for that matter why would he be chastised publicly for making a dismissive (even if you consider it rude or obscene) gesture to reporters asking him about his faith in a church? The same Amendment grants him the right to express himself.
I personally don’t agree with Justice Scalia on most of his court rulings. I think he is a poor jurist because he has too many preconceived opinions about the law. He relies more on his own ideas of what the law should be ignoring precident anytime it disagrees with his own beliefs. That being said I think the current furor is silly. Taking it for granted that he made an obscene gesture I would still say that its much ado about nothing. Move on to some real news this story is about as newsworthy as the video of pool diving pigs I saw on cnn.com the other day.
A far more interesting story to me is a follow up article in the Herald about the firing of the freelance photographer who released the picture of the incident after the Archdiocese of Bostons newspaper made a “journalistic decision” not to run the picture. I personally wonder how any objective journalist could suggest the picture wasn’t news in the aftermath of the original story.