'Fixed Star' or Twin Star? the Ambiguity of Barnette

37 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2018

Date Written: 2018


Written for a conference on “Barnette at 75," this essay argues that West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette addressed the fundamental challenge for modern societies– how to deal with pluralism. In response to that challenge, the case attempted to describe “the fixed star in our constellation.” But what was that “fixed star”? Two main interpretations have developed; these can be called “the neutrality interpretation” and “the integrity interpretation.” The essay argues that despite its widespread appeal, the neutrality interpretation is untenable; conversely, the integrity interpretation captures a fundamental commitment of the American constitutional project. And, as it happens, that commitment is particularly timely, albeit embattled, in our own circumstances, as the debate surrounding the Masterpiece Cakeshop controversy reflects.

Keywords: West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, pluralism, neutrality interpretation, integrity interpretation

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, 'Fixed Star' or Twin Star? the Ambiguity of Barnette (2018). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 18-363. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3249242 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3249242

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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