I rarely find myself at a loss for words, but Antonin Scalia has made me so. What is the most apposite term to describe this argument?
The question of the meaning of a cross in the context of a war memorial did give rise to one heated exchange, between Justice Scalia and Peter J. Eliasberg, a lawyer for Mr. Buono with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”
Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”
“What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”
Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom.
Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”
Casuistry? “Specious or excessively subtle reasoning intended to rationalize or mislead.” Specious implies “having the ring of truth or plausibility,” so that’s out, and excessive subtlety is not the problem here. Sophistry? “Plausible but fallacious argumentation.” Again, plausibility is not in play. Special pleading? “A presentation of an argument that emphasizes only a favorable or single aspect of the question at issue.” What would that favorable aspect be—that crosses are indeed the most common symbol, in some places, of the resting place of the dead? Chicanery? “Deception by trickery or sophistry.” Sophistry (q.v.). Idiocy? “Extreme folly or stupidity.” I’m no formal debater, but I don’t think that an argument from stupidity is what the good Jesuits at St. Francis Xavier taught Scalia, and he is plainly not an idot. Babbittry? “Narrow-minded self satisfaction with an unthinking attachment to middle-class values and materialism.” That’s getting warmer, but it’s unfair to middle-class materialists.
Does Justice Scalia actually not understand that the cross is, in the United States, the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead because most of those dead were Christians? He’s plainly receptive to Ted Cruz [sic], representing the VFW and American Legion, who contends that the cross is not a religious symbol: “For many, many years, we have used the symbol of a Latin cross to memorialize fallen veterans.”
I don’t understand the penchant of so many devoutly religious people to insist that symbols of their faith are otherwise. Every winter, when The War on Christmas™ flares up, you can count on some yahoo, who might happen to have a national radio program, insisting that there’s no problem with a crèche on the steps of City Hall—not by a narrow reading of the First Amendment—but because it’s not religious, it’s “historical.” Of course, considering how things might appear to someone of another or no faith would constitute empathy, and we can’t have any of that in the high court.