Washington D.C., Nov 1, 2016 / 08:03 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Washington, D.C. recently paid tribute to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — both for his life of faith, and how he stood firm in his beliefs amid criticism from the cultural elite.

“Antonin Scalia was a man of faith and reason,” said Ed Whelan in the keynote address Oct. 26. Whelan is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a former clerk for Justice Scalia.

“May we all be inspired by his example to live Catholic lives of integrity. May we see not with the eyes of men but with the eyes of faith. May we be wise in Christ,” Whelan said. “And may we, too, have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

Scalia was honored with the John Paul II New Evangelization Award at a dinner given by the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. The center is a nonprofit affiliate of the Archdiocese of Washington, and serves as a bookstore as well as a host for cultural and intellectual events for Catholics in the D.C. area.

Justice Scalia died Feb. 13 at a resort ranch in West Texas at the age of 79. He was the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, having served since 1986. A lifelong Catholic, Scalia attended the Jesuit-run Xavier High School in New York City and then Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for undergraduate studies.

Also speaking at the recent tribute event were the Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who gave the invocation, and Princeton professor Robert P. George, who served as the master of ceremonies.  

George commented that his late friend was not afraid to stand up to cultural and legal forces that threatened to push religion out of the public sphere. Legal decisions that condemn religious expression in public places, George said, have “become such a normal and accepted position in our society that we forget what Justice Scalia's great predecessors, the jurists and statesmen, had to say about the good place of faith in our public life.”

He lauded Scalia’s recognition that “our welfare, our very survival as a nation, depended upon us being a nation under God, that recognizes God's sovereignty and realizes that we are under God's judgment.” Whelan also praised Scalia’s robust defense of the role of religion in public life in his time on the court.

Quoting from one of the justice’s minority opinions, Whelan stated that religion is not “some purely personal avocation that can be indulged entirely in secret, like pornography, in the privacy of one’s room. For most believers it is not that, and has never been.”

Whelan also praised the justice’s opposition to the decisions that denied the right to protect the unborn in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, as well as more recent rulings that challenged the understanding of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. But Justice Scalia, Whelan added, “would dismiss the idea that he deserves any special thanks for his positions on these issues. As a matter of constitutional law, these questions were easy, he would say, and he was just doing his duty of interpreting the Constitution impartially.”

Whelan also recounted Scalia's bristling at being called a “Catholic Judge,” quoting Scalia’s assertion that “There are good judges and bad judges. The only article of faith that plays any part in my judging is the commandment, 'Thou Shalt Not Lie.'” However, Scalia's life did bear out his Catholic witness, Whelan offered, sharing a story of the late justice nudging a young Whelan to attend Mass on a Holy Day and a speech Scalia often used at Catholic gatherings contrasting “The Two Thomases” — Thomas Jefferson and St. Thomas More.

Thomas Jefferson, Scalia would point out, created a highly edited version of the Bible, cutting out miracles and the resurrection itself as being irrational. “What is irrational, it seems to me,” Scalia would say, “is to reject a priori, with no investigation, the possibility of miracles in general, and of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in particular — which is, of course, precisely what the worldly wise do.”

On the other hand, St. Thomas More died for a reason that was “silly” — at least in the eyes of his peers. “In what he did, More was unsupported by intelligent society, by his friends, even by his own wife,” Scalia said. “But of course More was not seeing with the eyes of men, but with the eyes of faith.”

Whelan quoted Scalia, saying: “For the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world for these seeming failings of ours, we lawyers and intellectuals — who do not like to be regarded as unsophisticated — can have no greater model than St. Thomas More.”