Constitutional Agnosticism, Religious Pluralism, and the Problem of Community
Steven Douglas Smith
University of San Diego School of Law
March 31, 2008
San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 08-020
The text of the Constitution nowhere mentions God; the document is, as some scholars put it, "godless." What is the significance of that silence? This brief essay, written for a discussion conference on religion, multiculturalism, and citizenship, considers and criticizes two possible responses, which would hold (a) that the Constitution's silence about God has no constitutional implications and (b) that the Constitution's godless qualities entails a general policy of mandatory public secularism. Instead, the Constitution's silence about God reflects a policy of "constitutional agnosticism" that leaves governments free to make affirmations (religious or otherwise) while assuring citizens that these affirmations are not constitutive of the political community. The essay argues that constitutional agnosticism, though misunderstood and subverted by modern Supreme Court doctrine, is a valuable strategy for addressing the challenge of e pluribus unum.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 11
Keywords: constitutional agnosticism, religious pluralism, problem of community
JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10
Date posted: April 2, 2008
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