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The Power of Metaphor: Thomas Jefferson's 'Wall of Separation between Church & State'


Julie A. Oseid


University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Fall 2010

Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Vol. 7, 2010

Abstract:     
Some metaphors are so powerful that they remain the quintessential description of an abstract and complex ideal, despite attacks on their accuracy or helpfulness. This article examines one such powerful metaphor: Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor describing the First Amendment religion clause as “building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Perhaps no metaphor about church-state relations has been more powerful, more controversial, or more lasting.

This article has several goals: to examine how Jefferson’s understanding of metaphor differed from the modern understanding of the use of metaphor in a legal context, to study how Jefferson came to use the “wall of separation” metaphor, to consider how the metaphor developed into a doctrinal metaphor substituting for the language and meaning of the First Amendment religion clause, and to glean lessons for legal writers from Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 32

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Date posted: July 29, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Oseid, Julie A., The Power of Metaphor: Thomas Jefferson's 'Wall of Separation between Church & State' (Fall 2010). Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Vol. 7, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1649841

Contact Information

Julie A. Oseid (Contact Author)
University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )
MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
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