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Educating for Liberalism

23 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2008  

Steven Douglas Smith

University of San Diego School of Law


Schools are expected to prepare students for liberal democracy, but what does that task entail with respect to students' rights to free speech, including their right to engage in religious expression? This essay distinguishes between two versions of liberalism, here called "detachment liberalism" and "classical liberalism." The first version, associated with thinkers like John Rawls and Richard Rorty, supposes that liberalism depends on citizens learning to separate strong beliefs from deliberation on crucial public matters, and this supposition engenders an orientation that views religious expression in schools as undesirable. The second version, reflected in thinkers like John Stuart Mill, sees believing and the search for truth as central to life, personhood, and democracy, and this understanding produces an orientation more congenial to the expression and consideration of belief, including religious convictions, in the schools. The essay then uses this distinction to comment on three papers that were presented in a conference at the UC Davis Law School on the First Amendment in the schools.

Keywords: religion, constitutional law, education, first amendment, schools

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Educating for Liberalism. UC Davis Law Review, Forthcoming; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 08-057. Available at SSRN:

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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