Nonbelievers and Government Religious Speech
69 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2011 Last revised: 20 May 2013
Date Written: March 28, 2011
In the past few years, nonbelievers have become much more prominent in the United States. But while their visibility has increased, they are still a small minority, and they remain disliked, distrusted, and not truly American in the eyes of many. As a result, many nonbelievers are hesitant about disclosing their views, and those who do often face hostility and discrimination.
This Article argues that government religious speech such as “In God We Trust” or a Latin cross war memorial violates the Establishment Clause in part because it exacerbates the precarious position of nonbelievers in this country. One of the main goals of the Establishment Clause is to protect religious minorities like nonbelievers. Contrary to claims that government religious speech is essentially harmless, and that any offense it causes should not be considered of constitutional dimension, government religious speech harms both the equality and liberty of nonbelievers. It undermines the equality of nonbelievers by sending the message that they are not worthy of equal regard and by reinforcing stereotypes - in particular, that atheists are immoral and unpatriotic - which lead to discrimination against them. The perpetuation of these stereotypes also undermines the liberty of nonbelievers by making them less willing, or even afraid, to follow the dictates of their conscience. In short, the claim that government religious speech does not violate the Establishment Clause because it only offends nonbelievers misunderstands exactly what is at stake.
Keywords: nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, nones, establishment clause, endorsement, legislative prayer, prayer, pledge, discrimination
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation