Our Agnostic Constitution

49 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2007


According to an argument heard a good deal lately, the fact that the Constitution says nothing about God means that we have a "godless Constitution," and that fact in turn entails that government and politics in the United States must be godless or, in the more usual locution, secular. The commitment to secular government in turn precludes governmental sponsorship of religious expressions (such as the national motto - "In God We Trust") or of religious symbols (such as Ten Commandments monuments). In this article, I argue that this interpretation of our "godless" Constitution is importantly correct - but even more importantly mistaken. The Constitution is godless or, more precisely, agnostic. And the fact that the Constitution is agnostic tells us something crucially important about our constitutional order. But the agnosticism of the Constitution does not entail that governments operating under the Constitution must be agnostic, or must refrain from religious expression. On the contrary, paradoxical though this may initially seem, it is precisely the Constitution's agnosticism that permits governments to engage in such expression.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Religion, Secularism

JEL Classification: K00, K1, K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Our Agnostic Constitution. New York University Law Review, Vol. 83, 2008; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-104. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1008919

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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