Brad DeLong flags an important post by Michigan political science/law professor Dan Herzog on Left2Right in which Herzog catches Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia making the following astonishing claim:
JUSTICE SCALIA: And when somebody goes by that monument, I don't think they're studying each one of the commandments. It's a symbol of the fact that government comes — derives its authority from God. And that is, it seems to me, an appropriate symbol to be on State grounds.
MR. CHEMERINSKY: I disagree, Your Honor. For the State to put that symbol between its State Capitol and the State Supreme Court is to convey a profound religious message....
JUSTICE SCALIA: It is a profound religious message, but it's a profound religious message believed in by the vast majority of the American people, just as belief in monotheism is shared by a vast majority of the American people. And our traditions show that there is nothing wrong with the government reflecting that. I mean, we're a tolerant society religiously, but just as the majority has to be tolerant of minority views in matters of religion, it seems to me the minority has to be tolerant of the majority's ability to express its belief that government comes from God, which is what this is about.
As DeLong says, this claim is drastically inconsistent with the history of American political thought:
Here in the United States, we are all children of Thomas Jefferson. God does not give us rulers. Instead, God gives us rights: to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We then institute governments to secure these rights, and they derive their just powers from our consent, not from God's decree. Moreover, it is not the YHWH of Revealed Religion but instead "Nature's God" and Nature itself that are the source of these rights.
[What Scalia said] is emphatically not the premise of our Constitution, which of course opens:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Yes, yes, the Declaration of Independence opens differently:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Not even that language, though, means that government comes from God. At most, it means a morality underwritten by God permits the colonies to split away from the British empire and declare independence. But they will then be establishing their own government.
Here in the US, we as citizens give consent to our government. For public officials to identify government with God's authority is a drastic and dangerous step that should be repudiated.