The Priority of God (a Theory of Religious Liberty)

51 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012

Date Written: 2012


Professor Paulsen argues that religious freedom only makes entire sense as a constitutional arrangement on the premise that God exists, that God makes actual demands on human loyalty and conduct, and that those demands precede and are superior in obligation to those of the State. Religious freedom exists to protect the exercise of plausibly true understandings of God's actual commands, as against state power, and to disable state power to proscribe -- or prescribe -- religious exercise. The article explores four possible stances of society toward religious freedom, depending on whether society and state embrace the idea of religious truth (or not) and whether society and state embrace the idea of religious tolerance (or not). It then argues that America's Constitution's religion clauses, in their original conception, are predicated in a belief in the possibility of religious truth and the imperative of religious tolerance so that the state does not interfere with private individuals' and groups' pursuit of truth. This perspective illuminates many of the issues that have plagued interpretation of the First Amendment religion clauses.

Keywords: religious liberty, freedom of religion, religious freedom, First Amendment, Religion Clauses, Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, constitutional interpretation, constitutional law

Suggested Citation

Paulsen, Michael Stokes, The Priority of God (a Theory of Religious Liberty) (2012). Pepperdine Law Review, 2012, Forthcoming, U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-15, Available at SSRN:

Michael Stokes Paulsen (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States
651-962-4831 (Phone)

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