Outrageous: Right Wing Supreme Court Justice Scalia Says ‘Religious Beliefs Aren’t Reasonable’

On October 7th, the Supreme Court of the United States heard a case which was filed against the Arkansas Department of Corrections, by a Muslim inmate. In an unbelievable display of hypocrisy, during oral arguments, Justice Antonin Scalia told the petitioner:

“Religious beliefs aren’t reasonable.”

The man who filed suit, Gregory Houston Holt,  AKA Abdul Maalak Muhammad was asking that the court overturn a ban on beards in Arkansas state prisons. As a Muslim man, Holt says that the ban substantially burdens his ability to exercise his religious beliefs, something the Supreme Court just ruled the government cannot do, in the Hobby Lobby case.

In a total departure from his earlier stance when hearing the Hobby Lobby case, hypocritical right wing Supreme Court Justice Scalia burdened the plaintiff with proving the ‘sincerity’ of his religious beliefs.

And if that doesn’t piss you off enough, during oral arguments Scalia actually said:

“Religious beliefs aren’t reasonable.”

screen capture, supremecourt.gov, Holt v Hobbs, October 7, 2014

screen capture, supremecourt.gov, Holt v Hobbs, October 7, 2014

This may well be the most mind-blowing quote in history.

For once, Scalia is right though. Religious beliefs aren’t reasonable. Many times they fly in the face of facts, such as when they pertain to things like contraception, abortion, equality for LGBTQ citizens, and whenever it comes to things like science or climate change, it’s clear that religious beliefs aren’t reasonable. Yet the ultra-conservative right wing Supreme Court has consistently held that religion does not need to be reasonable, because it’s religion.

If you look closer at Scalia’s full quote here, you soon realize that he’s asking the plaintiff to apply reason to his ‘not reasonable’ religious beliefs. He is basically saying since your religion requires you to have a full beard, it’s unreasonable for you to believe that a half inch beard will fulfill your religious requirements.

Wait, what?

Even if you take the position that what Scalia was trying to say is that religious beliefs aren’t negotiable, you can’t fail to see the hypocrisy in this statement. In essence, religious beliefs are beliefs – things that right wing justices have repeatedly said do not need to be justified with substantial facts. This was especially true in the Hobby Lobby case, which claimed that four types of birth control drugs were ‘abortion inducing drugs’. Attorney’s for the corporation therefore said that being asked to cover those drugs was a ‘violation of the corporations deeply held religious beliefs’.

The fact is the contraceptive methods the company referred to in the case do not induce abortion, they simply prevent implantation of the fertilized egg (pregnancy).

Immediately following the initial Hobby Lobby ruling, another challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s provision on employer health insurance covering birth control was heard. After that case, the right wing Supreme Court extended the original decision to cover all forms of contraception on the market, not just the four that Hobby Lobby refused to cover. Again, no religious justification was required for the plaintiff’s interpretation of their religious beliefs.

Let’s compare the approach taken by Scalia in this case, with the one which was taken by the same justice, during the Hobby Lobby case.

From the opening paragraph of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case:

screen capture, supremecourt.gov  Burwell v Hobby Lobby,  June 30, 2014

screen capture, supremecourt.gov Burwell v Hobby Lobby, June 30, 2014

During the Holt case, the attorney for the plaintiff argues that the ban on beards which has been enforced in the state’s corrections system is a substantial burden on his ability to exercise his religious freedom. Holt also states that the government has failed to show any compelling interest whatsoever for the ban.

The state absurdly argued that an inmate could hide something in a beard. The argument is absurd, in part because Holt is asking to grow a 1/2 inch, medical beard, as is allowed in 43 other US states, (many of which impose no limit on beard length at all). The state’s attorney’s failed to any security problems associated with beards in other prison systems. The state’s case is also absurd because, as Holt’s attorney points out, there’s no limit to how much hair can be grown on an inmates head.

The case got even more embarrassing as the state’s attorney claimed the ban on beards was to “keep prisoners from disguising themselves”.

During oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, there was very little questioning from right wing justice Scalia in regards to the ‘sincerity’ of the Hobby Lobby corporation’s beliefs. In fact, it was established during oral arguments that Hobby Lobby’s private insurance company had indeed provided birth control coverage to the company’s employees prior to the case. The fact that the company had only recently developed this ‘sincere’ religious belief’ about the issue of birth control was shrugged off as inconsequential. Scalia’s focus during Hobby Lobby was, as a matter of record, that the government must prove a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means possible to achieve its goals. (Transcripts of the oral arguments can be read here.)

In this case, however, Scalia seemed intently focused on forcing the plaintiff to justify his religious beliefs to the court. He adopted the stance that, since Holt’s religion requires a full beard, he could not be meeting his religious requirements by growing a 1/2 inch beard anyway. So in this instance, Scalia chose to interpret the plaintiff’s religious beliefs for him, a very odd position for a Supreme Court justice who has not been known for asking Christian plaintiffs to justify even the most outlandish beliefs.

To illustrate the point, there is no religious justification anywhere in the Christian Bible for the right wing’s demented and fanatical positions about abortion or birth control. But not once was Hobby Lobby asked to provide a religious justification for their beliefs or to explain how they fit into the Bible. Had the Hobby Lobby case received the same kind of scrutiny from Scalia, maybe the questions he presented in this case could be overlooked, but instead what we see is another total shift of position from him.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this case. The odds are pretty high that the Arkansas Corrections Department’s beard ban will be overturned, as the state failed dismally to show any compelling interest for the policy, and a majority of justices on the court seemed all too aware of that. Yet, Scalia’s glaring hypocrisy during the oral arguments phase of this case should not go unnoticed, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides about the length of a prisoner’s beard.