At seminary graduation, high court’s Alito warns of waning respect for religious liberty [photos]

Efforts nationally to erode “traditional moral values” vilify Catholics as bigots and threaten religious liberty for all Americans, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. said Wednesday during a graduation ceremony at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

In a 40-minute speech he delivered after Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave him an honorary degree, one of the high court’s most conservative jurists offered a dire warning to the 75 or so young graduates waiting to collect their own degrees.

“For most of my life, American people have been united in their strong respect for religious liberty. But recently, things have started to change,” Alito said.

He added: “The idea that speech can be banned if it expresses an idea that is offensive is spreading around the country.”

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Lawsuits over issues of sexual morality — including contraceptives, same-sex marriage and abortion — have spawned a “hostility” toward Christians who hold traditional moral values, Alito said.

Quoting his dissent in Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark case legalizing same-sex marriage, he said: “I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

Alito spoke of Christian persecution and prejudice through the centuries, saying: “History never repeats itself exactly, but it provides insight.”

But history is not finished with religious persecution, he added, citing an Italian study that found 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith around the world in 2016.

“There are more martyrs today than ever,” Alito said. “We in the United States need to pay more attention to what is happening to our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world.”

Chaput said such views are why he invited Alito to the seminary.

“He has made many outstanding contributions, especially pertaining to the sanctity and humanity of human life,” Chaput said.

Alito also is somewhat of a Philly boy.

He was born in Trenton in 1950 and grew up in neighboring Hamilton, where he graduated from Steinert High School. He also went to Princeton University and spent much of his career in New Jersey, working as U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit before he was appointed in 2006 to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Philadelphia has always had a special place in my heart,” Alito told the seminarians. “Philadelphia was the first place my father (an Italian immigrant) set foot in the United States in 1914 … I’m also a lifelong and long-suffering Phillies fan.”

Alito joins an impressive list of people to whom St. Charles Borromeo Seminary has granted honorary degrees, including St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pennsylvania Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix, and Judge Genevieve Blatt, the first woman elected to statewide office.

The seminary, founded in 1832, is the primary place men study to be priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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