In Brief

In this lesson, students are introduced to the friendship between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, considering it against the backdrop of deep ideological differences. Students are invited to consider the potential for connection when we refuse to reduce others to their ideological positions.


  • Students will analyze the differences and bases for connection between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as case study in friendship across ideological differences.
  • Students will examine the connection between friendship across ideological differences and the themes of image of God, dehumanization, and hospitality.

Thinking Ahead 

Before teaching this class, you will want to review the background on the issues separating Scalia and Ginsburg and the story of their friendship. You can start from the linked resources, and their relationship has been widely discussed, so further sources are plentiful. As you do so, think about why this particular friendship might have caught the public imagination. It has become commonplace in recent years to hear stories about people dreading or avoiding family gatherings because of political differences. The Scalia-Ginsburg story seems to hold out the possibility of avoiding a reduction of others to their ideological positions and finding grounds for a kind of connection that goes far beyond tolerance. At the same time, it would be easy to romanticize the story—connecting with others in the context of deep differences can be demanding. Bear in mind these twin themes of hope and realism as you unfold this story through the lesson, drawing students’ attention at the end back to the fundamental commitments that might make connection with others possible.

Preparing the Activity

Materials needed

To teach this lesson, you will need access to a range of online resources (check that all are current before class):

Teaching the Activity

Phase 1 (20 minutes)

Ask students what they know about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia. Then show a 3-minute video of Ruth Bader Ginsburg explaining what the Scalia/Ginsburg opera by Derrick Wang is about – cue ahead of time to get past the advertising). Then explain the roles of Ginsburg and Scalia as justices on the Supreme Court and how they had starkly opposed political views, but still maintained a close personal friendship. It is this friendship that is portrayed through the various scenes of the opera and reaches the climax with a duet called “We are different, we are one.”

Watch the duet from the opera (4-6 minutes) (To include some framing commentary, start at 48:12. For just the duet, start at 50:08. The duet ends at 54:07). The libretto or transcript is available here for students to follow along with or you may choose to print out just the duet as a handout.

Read aloud the statement by Ruth Bader Ginsburg from when Scalia died and draw students’ attention to this quote: “different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve.” Ask students why they think so many people were fascinated by this aspect of the relationship (fascinated enough for an opera to be written!). What makes this unusual in our experience? Which of our hopes does it touch?

Phase 2 (30 minutes)

Divide the class into groups of about 4 and give a copy of the Scalia-Ginsburg handout to each group. Ask students to review the following documents as a group (you may choose to provide each group with various cases and have them divide them among themselves or assign one case to each group).

Ask students to complete the Venn diagram using the sources to summarize on the diagram the political and ideological differences in play. How did each view the Constitution? Fill in the center of the Venn diagram by exploring the similarities that the two enjoyed.

Draw the class back together to discuss their findings and to relate them to the overall themes of this sequence of lessons.

  • How does this friendship relate to dehumanization/rehumanization?
  • How might it have gone differently if Scalia and Ginsburg had viewed each other as defined only by their political views?
  • How was their friendship connected to being able to see each other’s humanity?
  • How did they exercise hospitality toward one another in spite of deep disagreements?
  • How did this go beyond tolerance for those who are different?
  • What value might there be in pursuing such friendships?
Previous Lesson
Language and the Image of God

This lesson introduces the connection between dehumanizing language and violence and reviews instances in media sources, comparing them with the biblical themes of the image of God and hospitality.

View lesson