Secret recording highlights Alito’s strong conservative views on religious issues

WASHINGTON — A month ago, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a commencement speech at an Ohio Catholic college in which he returned to a familiar theme: Conservative Christians are under attack from liberals in a culture war ravaging the United States.

He told students that religious freedom and free speech were under threat and warned that there are “certain principles on which we cannot compromise without paying a frightening price.”

Alito, who is Catholic, has made similar claims over the years in public statements, and his conservative religious worldview is also reflected in his written opinions when the court rules on controversial topics like same-sex marriage.

His views, which were no mystery even in 2005 when he was nominated to the high court by Republican President George W. Bush, are coming under scrutiny again after a secret recording of him speaking at of a social event requiring attendees to purchase a ticket became public this week.

The recording of liberal activist Lauren Windsor is the latest intrusion into the once-closed elitist bubble around judges, which has been repeatedly breached following the tumultuous leak two years ago of a draft ruling, drafted by Alito, overturning abortion rights landmark Roe v. . NBC News was unable to independently verify the audio recordings.

Alito has also been in the spotlight for flags flying outside his homes that were linked to conservative political causes, including former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Alito said the flags were flown by his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, and refused to recuse himself from ongoing cases involving Trump and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

In the latest episode, Windsor secretly recorded Alito and fellow conservative Chief Justice John Roberts at a June 3 event at the court hosted by the Supreme Court Historical Society. The recordings, which also feature Alito’s wife, were first reported by Rolling Stone magazine.

In the recordings, Alito appeared to agree with Windsor, who posed as a conservative Christian, that the United States was locked in a culture war between liberals and conservatives, saying at one point that “one camp or the other will win.” He quickly added that “there may be a way to… live together peacefully, but it’s difficult, you know, because there are differences on fundamental things that can’t really be compromised.”

Alito also agreed when Windsor said the United States should return to a “place of godliness.”

Roberts was more circumspect, pushing back against Powell’s questions, saying it was not up to the court to decide whether the country should be put on a more moral path.

Alito’s comments in particular have drawn renewed attention to his role as one of the most energetic members of the Court’s 6-3 conservative majority, a position that recently prompted a law professor to call him of “just the most MAGA Republican.”

Alito and Roberts, through a Supreme Court spokeswoman, did not respond to requests for comment.

In defending Alito, Carrie Severino, president of JCN, a conservative legal group, said Alito’s agreement with the “piety” comment is “a pretty trite statement for anyone not on the radical left.” .

Richard Garnett, a professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, said Alito’s remarks on the culture wars, read in context, suggest he is simply arguing that there are deep divisions in the society.

“I certainly did not interpret that remark as indicating any disposition on his part to be unfair to one side or another,” he added.

But Carolyn Shapiro, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said Alito’s comments provide further evidence that he does not necessarily view himself as a “neutral arbiter” in the conflict.

“I think he considers himself a supporter of this fight,” she added.

During his recent commencement speech at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Alito warned that support for free speech was “dangerously declining” and that religious freedom was also under threat.

“As you venture out into the world, you may very well find yourself in a job, community, or social setting where you will be pressured to endorse ideas you do not believe in, or to abandon your core beliefs. This will It’s up to you to hold on,” he told the students.

Alito has frequently supported religious rights in cases before the Supreme Court, including in rulings that opened the door to using taxpayer dollars to send children to religious schools. He voted in favor of a Christian high school football coach who was suspended for leading prayers on the field after games and supported a Christian web designer who did not want to work on websites for same-sex marriages.

In 2014, Alito wrote the majority opinion when the court allowed some companies to deny their employees medical coverage for contraceptives based on the owners’ religious views.

He wrote a lengthy separate opinion in 2021 when the court ruled in favor of a Catholic group that had been barred from participating in Philadelphia’s foster care program because of the Church’s stance against relationships homosexuals. Alito complained that the court did not go far enough in expanding religious rights in a decision that “leaves religious freedom in a confused and vulnerable state.”

Alito spoke at length about his concerns about religious freedom becoming what he called a “second-class right” during a speech he delivered remotely to the conservative Federalist Society in November 2020.

“It pains me to say this, but in some circles, religious freedom is quickly becoming a disfavored right,” he said.

He cited several recent Supreme Court cases, including one in which a Catholic religious order called the Little Sisters of the Poor refused to allow contraception to be included in their health insurance plans. Alito said the group had been “subject to relentless attacks” because of its position. Ultimately, the group was not required to comply.

Alito also cited pandemic-specific instances in which places of worship were forced to close following shutdown orders issued to prevent the spread of Covid-19, saying governors had “clearly discriminated » with regard to religious institutions.

Regarding same-sex marriage, Alito said that following the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized the practice, “we cannot say that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” .

Alito disagreed with this decision 5-4, writing in defense of those who opposed same-sex unions based on their religious beliefs.

“I suppose those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat these opinions in public they risk being labeled bigots and treated as such by the governments, employers and other schools,” he writes.

Five years later, in his speech to the Federalist Society, Alito referenced his earlier prediction.

“This is exactly what is happening,” he said.