Alito – sporting a new beard – gave the lecture which was largely devoted to protecting religious freedom last week, but it was not made public until Thursday by Notre Dame Law School.
“Religious freedom is under attack in many places because it is dangerous for those who want complete power,” Alito said. “It also probably stems from something dark and deep in human DNA – a tendency to distrust and dislike people who are not like us,” he added.
His speech comes a month after the end of a blockbuster term where the court majority not only ended a federal abortion right, but also ruled in favor of religious conservatives in two cases.
Alito delivered the keynote address for Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Freedom Initiative. Most of the speech was devoted to broadly discussing how religious freedom has been challenged throughout history.
Alito did not discuss leaking the abortion ruling he wrote – Dobbs v. Jackson – last May, and only indirectly referred to the final version which he called an opinion “whose name cannot be pronounced”.
He did so by expressing his disapproval of foreign leaders who had criticized public opinion.
“I had the honor of writing this mandate, I believe, the only Supreme Court decision in the history of this institution that has been lambasted by a whole host of foreign leaders,” Alito said, noting that they felt “perfectly fine to comment on US law”.
He noted that one of the critics was British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who announced his intention to step down in early July, days after the notice was published.
“He paid the price,” Alito said to laughter and applause. He also slammed French President Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, for comments criticizing opinion.
Returning to religious freedom, Alito said one challenge is to “convince people that religious freedom is worth fighting for if they don’t think religion is a good thing worth protecting.” .
He said such an effort might involve focusing on how religion fosters “domestic tranquility.”
“It provides a way for people of diverse faiths to stay together and thrive,” he said and noted that “the American experience illustrates this well.”
He also highlighted the tremendous charitable work done by religious groups and believers.
In 2021, the court said Philadelphia violated the First Amendment by freezing the contract of a Catholic foster agency that refused to work with same-sex couples as prospective adoptive parents because the agency believed the marriage should be between a man and a woman. Alito wrote separately to complain that the court did not go far enough in its opinion and should have made it much harder for the government to enforce laws that affect the religious beliefs of certain individuals.
“The Court has issued a bit of a decision that leaves religious freedom in a confused and vulnerable state,” Alito wrote at the time.
During the term just ended, however, the court twice ruled in favor of religious conservatives. In one instance, he sided with a public high school football coach who sought to pray at the 50-yard line after games. In another, he said Maine cannot exclude religious schools from tuition assistance programs open to public and private schools.
Alito ended his speech in Rome with a reference to Scripture. He said that “champions of religious freedom, who ‘come out as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves,’ can expect to find hearts open to their message”.