Corruption of Religion and the Establishment Clause

106 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2008 Last revised: 10 May 2009


Government neutrality toward religion is based on familiar considerations: the importance of avoiding religious conflict, alienation of religious minorities, and the danger that religious considerations will introduce a dangerous irrational dogmatism into politics and make democratic compromise more difficult. This paper explores one consideration, prominent at the time of the framing, that is often overlooked: the idea that religion can be corrupted by state involvement with it. This idea is friendly to religion but, precisely for that reason, is determined to keep the state away from religion.

If the religion-protective argument for disestablishment is to be useful today, it cannot be adopted in the form in which it was understood in the 17th and 18th centuries, because in that form it is loaded with assumptions rooted in a particular variety of Protestant Christianity. Nonetheless, suitably revised, it provides a powerful reason for government, as a general matter, to keep its hands off religious doctrine. It offers the best explanation for many otherwise mysterious rules of Establishment Clause law.

Keywords: Religion, Constitutional Law, Establishment Clause

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Koppelman, Andrew M., Corruption of Religion and the Establishment Clause. William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 50, 2008, Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 08-32, Available at SSRN:

Andrew M. Koppelman (Contact Author)

Northwestern University School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8431 (Phone)

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