What do the Free Exercise and Nonestablishment Norms Forbid? Reflections on the Constitutional Law of Religious Freedom
Michael J. Perry
Emory University School of Law; University of San Diego - School of Law and Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies
University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Forthcoming
This essay is my contribution to the symposium held at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on Oct. 17-18, 2003, honoring Judge John T. Noonan's scholarship, a prominent part of which focuses on questions of religious freedom.
The Constitution of the United States famously declares, in the First Amendment, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Yet, it is settled constitutional law that not just Congress but the entire national government - and not just the national government but state government too - may not establish religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof. For Americans today, the serious question is not whether the free exercise norm and the nonestablishment norm - the two principal matrices of the constitutional law of religious freedom - apply to the whole of American government, including state government. They do so apply. The serious question is not even whether the free exercise and nonestablishment norms should apply to the whole of American government. In the judgment of most Americans who bother to think about the matter, they should so apply. It is not surprising, then, that the sovereignty of the two norms over every branch and level of American government is constitutional bedrock.
For Americans today, the serious question, regarding the free exercise and nonestablishment norms, is this: What does it mean to say that government, state as well as national, may neither prohibit the free exercise of, nor establish, religion? In particular, what sorts of government action - laws, policies, etc. - do the free exercise and nonestablishment norms forbid? At the risk of understatement: Not every scholar or judge gives the same answer to this question. My aim here is to give the answer that makes the most sense to me.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 39Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 30, 2004
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