The U.S. is entering a period when its commitment to religious liberty is being tested, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito told an audience Wednesday at an event in Madison, New Jersey, sponsored by a Catholic lawyers' organization.
Alito used his own words from his dissent in the Supreme Court's landmark same-sex marriage case, telling the gathering he had predicted opposition to the decision would be used to "vilify those who disagree, and treat them as bigots."
"We are seeing this is coming to pass," he said, then mentioned Bob Dylan's famous song lyric, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
"A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs," Alito said.
The speech was sponsored by Advocati Christi, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges who seek to "provide an opportunity for lawyers to learn about the Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching and to help them integrate these into their life and practice."
Alito served as U.S. Attorney in New Jersey and was based in Newark while a member of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He has been a Supreme Court justice since 2006.
In a roughly 45-minute speech that mentioned the Founding Fathers and 19th-century French writer Alexis De Tocqueville as well as Dylan and the 1960s TV sitcom "The Flying Nun," Alito discussed the hostility faced by Catholics in the U.S. over the centuries, and of his own joy as a youth staying up until the wee hours of the morning to witness John F. Kennedy elected the first Roman Catholic president in 1960.
"I felt it had lifted me up from the status of second-class American," he said.
While religious freedom has been recognized in Congress and in the courts, Alito said, attitudes are slower to change. He recounted a Democratic lawmaker who opposed his nomination in 2005 because Alito would make "too many Catholics on the court."
Alito said reactions to Supreme Court decisions such as the Hobby Lobby case, in which a company balked at being required to cover certain forms of contraception in its employee health plan, should spur action.
"We are likely to see pitched battles in courts and Congress, state legislatures and town halls," he said. "But the most important fight is for the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. It is up to all of us to evangelize our fellow Americans about the issue of religious freedom."