Active Symbols

Claudia E. Haupt

Columbia University - Law School; Yale University - Yale Information Society Project

October 5, 2013

55 Boston College Law Review 821 (2014)
Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-395

Visual representations of religious symbols continue to puzzle judges. Lacking empirical data on how images communicate, courts routinely dismiss visual religious symbols as “passive.” This Article challenges the notion that symbols are passive, introducing insights from cognitive neuroscience research to Establishment Clause theory and doctrine. It argues that visual symbolic messages can be at least as active as textual messages. Therefore, religious messages should be assessed in a medium-neutral manner in terms of their communicative impact, that is, irrespective of their textual or visual form.

Providing a new conceptual framework for assessing religious symbolic messages, this Article reconceptualizes coercion and endorsement — the dominant competing approaches to symbolic messages in Establishment Clause theory — as matters of degree on a spectrum of communicative impact. This focus on communicative impact reconciles the approaches to symbolic speech in the Free Speech and Establishment Clause contexts and allows Establishment Clause theory to more accurately account for underlying normative concerns.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 59

Keywords: First Amendment, Establishment Clause, free speech, government speech, religious symbols, religious displays, legislative prayer, neurolaw, cognitive neuroscience

JEL Classification: K10

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Date posted: October 7, 2013 ; Last revised: June 11, 2014

Suggested Citation

Haupt, Claudia E., Active Symbols (October 5, 2013). 55 Boston College Law Review 821 (2014); Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-395. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2336532

Contact Information

Claudia E. Haupt (Contact Author)
Columbia University - Law School ( email )
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Yale University - Yale Information Society Project ( email )
127 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
United States
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