Religious Symbols and Secular Government

24 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2012

Date Written: September 17, 2012


That a “secular” government should not sponsor religious expressions may seem almost like an analytic truth. And yet in practice, liberal democratic governments often support religious symbols and expressions. So, are governments that purport to be secular and yet support religious symbols or expressions just being hypocritical, or incoherent? This essay, written for a conference on “Freedom from Religion” held in Tel Aviv in December 2011, considers three different versions of secularity – what I call the “classical,” “comprehensive,” and “agnostic” versions – and concludes that none of these versions forbids religious expressions by “secular” governments.

Keywords: First Amendment, Establishment Clause, Religion, Constitutional Law

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K39

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Religious Symbols and Secular Government (September 17, 2012). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 12-096. 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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