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Justice Alito speaks at Catholic school commencement, warns of attacks on First Amendment freedoms


Alex Price, Article

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a commencement address at a private Catholic university in Steubenville, Ohio, addressing what he saw as the deteriorating state of American higher education, among other themes.

On May 11, Alito spoke to Franciscan University graduates, praising the U.S. Constitution: “I think that our Constitution is the best the world has ever seen . . .  I believe that our Constitution could not have endured and could not have provided the framework for our country’s growth if it did not rest on a deep understanding of human nature and human behavior.”

[Related: Clemson Republicans say free speech rights were violated after canvassing event gets shut down]

Continuing, he said: “It sets out the structure of the government, it protects basic rights and then it leaves just about everything else to be decided by the American people acting through their elected representatives.”

Quoting the Supreme Court’s 1866 decision, Ex Parte Milligan, he said: “The Framers foresaw that troublous times would arise when rulers and people would become restive and the principles of Constitutional liberty would be in peril, unless established by irreparable law. The Constitution of the United States applies to all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances.”

Expounding on this principle, Alito said: “This same fundamental idea, that there are certain principles that we cannot compromise without paying a fearsome price, applies to our personal lives.”

The Supreme Court Justice then moved on to criticizing increasing attacks on free speech in higher education, saying that “in the world outside this beautiful campus, troubled waters are slamming against some of our most fundamental principles. Support for freedom of speech is declining dangerously, especially where it should find broadest and widest acceptance. . . . today very few colleges live up to that ideal [of reasoned debate].”

“Religious liberty is also threatened. When you venture out into the world, you may find yourself in a job or a community or a social setting where you will be pressured to endorse ideas you don’t believe or to abandon core beliefs. It will be up to you to stand firm,” he continued.

Turning to encouragement, Alito again mentioned the Constitution, saying: “Our Constitution has survived and flourished because it was designed to accommodate change. We are a nation of change. When Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1840s, he marveled at the restlessness of Americans. And since Tocqueville’s day, Americans have never stopped racing towards the future.” He also exhorted the students to “distinguish between dedication to principles that never change and mere nostalgia for the past.”

[Related: Anti-Israel protesters disrupt UMich commencement and post-grad brunch]

Going forward, Alito exhorted students to “respect reason and civil discourse,” value tradition, and “preserve our connections to our own past.”

“I look forward with American optimism to see what you will do when . . . you take the plunge into the real world. Congratulations to all of you,” Alito concluded.

Campus Reform has reached out to Franciscan University and Justice Alito’s office for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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Republished with permission from Campus Reform

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