Justice Antonin Scalia invoked “devil worshippers” Wednesday during Supreme Court arguments about the constitutionality of legislative prayer.
He made his remark while interjecting during a line of questioning by Justice Samuel Alito about whether any conceivable prayer could simultaneously be acceptable to Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus.
“What about devil worshippers?” Scalia said, to laughs in the chamber.
The jurist, a devout Catholic, defended a practice by a town in New York named Greece of holding prayers during open board meetings, arguing that citizens have a right to free exercise of religion. He argued that it’s not a plausible to require that a prayer satisfy everyone’s beliefs.
“What is the equivalent of prayer for someone who is not religious?” Scalia said. “There are many people who do not believe in God. … If you had an atheist [town] board, you would not have any prayer. I guarantee you.”
Scalia recently told New York magazine in an interview that he believes in the devil. “Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person,” the justice said. “In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.”
The justices tested the parameters of legislative prayer on Wednesday but roundly expressed skepticism that the town’s practice was unconstitutional. The challengers, who do not believe in God, contend that the practice violates their First Amendment rights.
The case is Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway.