Believing Persons, Personal Believings: The Neglected Center of the First Amendment

128 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2002


Law is of and for persons, and hence legal discourse necessarily operates with some at least implicit conception of what it means to be a person. A good deal of contemporary legal discourse (including First Amendment theorizing, in the areas of both speech and religion) adopts one or more of three currently fashionable conceptions of the person: the person as interest-seeker, the autonomous person, or the person as citizen. But these conceptions are inadequate to account for First Amendment commitments, and modern understandings of free speech and religious freedom have suffered as a result. A better conception for these purposes is that of the person as believer - a conception that would emphasize both the centrality of believing to personhood and the inescapably personal character of "believing." This article discusses this alternative conception and explores its implications for freedom of speech and religion.

JEL Classification: K00, K4

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Believing Persons, Personal Believings: The Neglected Center of the First Amendment. University of Illinois Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

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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