Legal Docket – Justice Clarence Thomas at Hillsdale


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Monday morning and we’re back at it for another week of The World and Everything in It. Today is the 27th of April, 2020. 

Good morning to you, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Today, we have a special Legal Docket featuring a talk by Justice Clarence Thomas.

He’s not a justice who speaks up much during oral arguments at the Supreme Court. It’s not that he’s shy;  he just has a different philosophy about the purpose of oral arguments than do the other justices.

EICHER: I’d agree: slow to speak, quick to listen. Probably a lesson in there for those of us who are talkers?

But before we get to that speech, a brief note about what the justices are up to. We expect opinions today and will bring a synopsis of those tomorrow.

And one week from today the justices will hold oral arguments via teleconference. Mary, I know you’ll have analysis on some of those the following Monday. And again for several Mondays until we are all caught up.

REICHARD: Sounds good. It’ll be good to finish those up.

And now before that speech by Justice Thomas:

We know a lot of students expected to walk across a platform and receive a diploma or college degree over the next few weeks. Those ceremonies have been canceled, much to the disappointment of so many. Including myself: my son graduates with honors from college in a few days. I was so looking forward to celebrating that with him. But it’s not to be, at least not in the usual way.

EICHER: Regrettable timing, and you remember my complaining about three sons’ graduations last year at about the same time: law school, college, and high school. Of course, you don’t hear that complaint from me—not anymore!

So in honor of all the graduates, not a commencement speech, but a dedication speech.

REICHARD: And that still seems so right, as we dedicate our young adults to their future lives. 

Hillsdale College opened a new chapel on its campus last year. Justice Thomas affirmed that achievement as a “public declaration that faith and reason are mutually reinforcing.”

We start with his reflection on the meaning of sacred spaces. Let’s listen to these excerpts from October 3, 2019.

CLARENCE THOMAS: This is a very special occasion—the 175th anniversary of Hillsdale and the dedication of this beautiful Chapel.

The Chapel’s enduring beauty highlights the transcendence, the sovereignty, and the grace of God. It truly illustrates how architectural design can reflect the character of God and evoke a sense of reverence for His majesty.

Everyone involved in the financing, planning, and construction of this Chapel should rightly be proud. It is a magnificent accomplishment. But we’ve gathered here today not just to admire this beautiful Chapel—we have gathered here to dedicate it.

The primary purpose of a chapel is to provide a place where man can enter the presence of God. For as Elijah learned on Mount Horeb, God so often comes to us not in the storms, not in the earthquakes or fires of life, but in stillness—in a “gentle whisper.”

Accordingly, men and women have long sought respite from the noise and commotion of daily life, where they can “be still, and know that [He is] God,” where they can seek an inner calm and a transcendent peace. Beautiful chapels, such as this one, provide that sacred space for stillness, a place for an encounter with the Divine. As the architect of this Chapel has written, “When you enter a church, it is as if you are entering through a gateway from the profane toward the sacred.”

Chapels also provide a space for other important activities that take place on a more regular basis. For example, worship services will be held in this chapel. If our highest purpose is to glorify God, what better resource to provide on a college campus than a chapel that allows students,  faculty,  and staff and visitors to gather together in worship and prayer?

This chapel also will serve as a setting for ceremonies and liturgical concerts allowing all who gather here to learn together and celebrate before God. And the chapel will be used regularly for personal prayers of reflection, meditation, confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

When life is difficult and seems pointless, we need a safe haven where we can escape from the storm and find solace. Chapels provide that setting. 

They invite us to draw near to God and to elevate our thoughts to seek his wisdom, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, and to find that peace that surpasses all understanding.

This calls to mind Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel. When she came to the tabernacle to pray, she was barrened, but longed for a child. The Bible describes her as “deeply depressed.” But Hannah poured out her soul before the Lord at the tabernacle. And after a time of prayer and speaking with the priests, her face was no longer sad. She came to the Tabernacle in anguish; she left at peace.

Hannah’s story reminds me of a young woman I saw some years ago in a church I attend near the court. As I knelt saying the rosary after Mass, I noticed her crying, her shoulders jerking rhythmically as she sobbed heavily. We happened to leave the church at the same time and as we did I asked her if she was ok. Her face streaked with mascara she answered in a quiet peaceful voice, “I am now.”

I humbly offer my own story that is similar. Like Hannah, my life was changed through prayer at a place of worship. In my early adult (stumble here) years, I became greatly disillusioned with the church and made the mistake of angrily storming away—impetuousness of youth. Throughout law school and the early years of my career, I was self-reliant—so I thought—and gave little attention to God.

But not long after I joined President Reagan’s administration, I was in the midst of one of the darkest periods of my life. I was in my thirties, running a federal agency under significant public scrutiny and criticism. I had little money, I was raising my young son, and I was grieving the loss of the two most important people in my life, my grandparents. Life seemed hopeless and I felt like I had nowhere to turn.

In the midst of this hardship and grief, God drew me back to the Church, and he used a church building to do it.

Within those walls, I was able to elevate my thoughts beyond my circumstances and self-absorption, and set my mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, as Saint Paul wrote in the letter to the Colossians.

I am a changed man today and God began that transformation in a holy place, where I could temporarily leave behind the onslaught of life’s difficulties and bring my troubles before the Lord.

The college years require young people to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. They’re exposed to new ideas, new relationships, new distractions, and new temptations. They need a place where they can go to be relieved of their troubles and get their bearing, as so much comes at them so fast. In short, Hillsdale College has recognized the importance of equipping students not only intellectually, but also spiritually, for the many challenges of life in college and beyond.

The construction of a college chapel, in particular, is a public declaration that faith and reason are mutually reinforcing. 

By constructing this Chapel, the College upholds the continued importance of its Christian roots, even as it respects the rights of each person to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. Our country was founded on the view that a correct understanding of the nature of God and the human person is critical to preserving the liberty that we so enjoy.

John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Without the guardrails supplied by religious conviction, popular sovereignty can devolve into mob rule, unmoored from any conception of objective truth.

As I think about our political culture today, I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s warning that, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them to do the same.” 

Faith in God, more than anything else, fuels the strength of character and self-discipline needed to ably discharge that responsibility.

Hillsdale College’s Articles of Association affirm that “inestimable blessings” flow from “the prevalence of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety in the land.” The College was founded on the belief that “the diffusion of sound learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.” Thus Hillsdale College was founded on the understanding that the battle to preserve and promote freedom in our country will be waged in the hearts and minds of the people.

Rather than shrinking from the battle, Hillsdale is rising to the occasion by investing in the intellectual and spiritual development of its students, so they can provide God-honoring leadership in our country. Let it be said of them what was said of David, that he “served the counsel of God in his own generation.”

Students, faculty, administrators, and friends of Hillsdale, let this Chapel be more than just an impressive building. Let it stand as a bold declaration to a watching world that faith and learning are rightly understood as complements, and that both are essential to the preservation of the blessings of liberty.

Above all, let this Chapel equip and inspire us to honor God in whatever He calls us to do. For as Saint Paul wrote in the Letter to the Romans, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

May God bless each of you. And may God bless this wonderful country.

Thank you.


REICHARD: That’s Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas dedicating a new chapel at Hillsdale College last fall. To hear his full speech, look for the link in today’s transcript.


(Photo/Hillsdale College)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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