Fox News host Bill O'Reilly labeled civil rights attorney Christopher Murray's statement that public institutions should not display religious symbols "fascist" during a discussion about two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. But if such a view is "fascist," then so are the views of four Supreme Court justices, who made similar statements in their dissenting opinions in one of the cases.
After Murray expressed opposition to all displays of religious symbols "in a public institution," O'Reilly told him, "You know what you sound like? You sound like a fascist." After a quick denial by Murray, O'Reilly insisted, "Yes, you do." Murray then reiterated that "public institutions should be neutral, should not have religious displays," adding that "I think people are free to practice their religion on private property in the way that they want to, but I think public institutions should not play a role in presenting religious --" just before O'Reilly cut him off.
But four Supreme Court justices took a similar, if somewhat less absolute, position in multiple dissents in Van Orden v. Perry. The five-justice majority in that case ruled that a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol did not violate the constitutional separation of church and state. But Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asserted in a dissent that "the Establishment Clause has created a strong presumption against the display of religious symbols on public property." Stevens added:
"The monument's permanent fixture at the seat of Texas government is of immense significance. The fact that a monument 'is installed on public property implies official recognition and reinforcement of its message. That implication is especially strong when the sign stands in front of the seat of government itself. The 'reasonable observer' of any symbol placed unattended in front of any capitol in the world will normally assume that the sovereign -- which is not only the owner of that parcel of real estate but also the lawgiver for the surrounding territory -- has sponsored and facilitated its message.' Pinette, 515 U. S., at 801-802 (STEVENS, J., dissenting).
If neutrality in religion means something, any citizen should be able to visit that civic home without having to confront religious expressions clearly meant to convey an official religious position that may be at odds with his own religion, or with rejection of religion. See County of Allegheny, 492 U. S., at 626 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) ("I agree that the crèche displayed on the Grand Staircase of the Allegheny County Courthouse, the seat of county government, conveys a message to nonadherents of Christianity that they are not full members of the political community . ... The display of religious symbols in public areas of core government buildings runs a special risk of making religion relevant, in reality or public perception, to status in the political community" (alteration and internal quotation marks omitted).
In addition, O'Reilly's name-calling ignores core tactics of 20th century fascist dictators. Far from enforcing a rigid church-state separation, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco and his nationalists, and Adolf Hitler all attempted to solidify their power by co-opting religious institutions and their symbols; Hitler even attempted to create a state church by merging Nazi ideology with Protestant traditions.
From the June 27 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, which also featured guest Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council:
O'REILLY: But if there are other things around it, then they should be able to have it, just like the Supreme Court. Right? There's a copy of the Ten Commandments right over the justice's head -- chief justice's head. But there are other, Magna Carta, things like that. So I mean, what's the rub?
MURRAY: Well, I don't think they should have it in any circumstances.
O'REILLY: You'd ban the Ten Commandments from any public exposition?
MURRAY: I think religious symbols are inappropriate for --
O'REILLY: All religious symbols?
O'REILLY: OK, nothing. So secular society, religious symbols should be banned, kind of like in the Soviet Union and Red China?
MURRAY: Well, no, I think that people have a right to practice their religion. And I don't think public --
O'REILLY: You can't have it in a public arena?
MURRAY: In a public institution --
O'REILLY: Can't have it, ban it?
MURRAY: Yes. And I also --
O'REILLY: You know what you sound like? You sound like a fascist.
MURRAY: No, I --
O'REILLY: Yes, you do. Ban it.
MURRAY: No, I think public institutions should be neutral, should not have religious displays. I think people are free to practice their religion on private property in the way that they want to, but I think public institutions should not play a role in presenting religious --
O'REILLY: All right. What are you saying, Mr. Perkins? Did you figure out this ruling?