Freedom of Religion or Freedom of the Church?

49 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2011  

Steven Douglas Smith

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: August 17, 2011

Abstract

This essay argues that the well known problems in modern religion clause jurisprudence can be traced back to a common mistake: we have supposed that the clauses are about religion when in fact they are (or should be) about the church. Part 1 of the essay argues that the understanding which supposes that the Constitution requires special treatment of “religion,” or that it creates or accepts a special category of “religion” that involves distinctive benefits and burdens and disqualifications, rests on a false dichotomy, or a debilitating category mistake. Part 2 briefly recounts how, historically, a campaign for freedom of the church - a campaign devoted to maintaining the church as a jurisdiction independent of the state-developed into a commitment to freedom of conscience (conscience being the “inner church,” so to speak). The section then relates how this commitment to freedom of the church - both the institutional church and the inner church - came to be reconceived as a more generic commitment to freedom of religion, with the unfortunate consequences considered in Part 1.

Keywords: religion, constitutional law, freedom of the church, first amendment

JEL Classification: k10, k39

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Freedom of Religion or Freedom of the Church? (August 17, 2011). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 11-061. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1911412

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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