Nonestablishment Under God? The Nonsectarian Principle

35 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2004

Date Written: Spring 2004


Using as a point of reference the Ninth Circuit's assertion in Newdow v. United States Congress that "[a] profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes," to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' this essay attempts to disentangle three themes that the modern discourse of religious freedom often conflates, with baneful effect. We can call these the public secularism principle, the neutrality principle, and the nonsectarian principle. The essay argues that the first two of these principles have exercised a pernicious influence over First Amendment jurisprudence: but the third, if it could be extracted so that its own distinctive virtues could be appreciated, might provide valuable mooring for what is at present a deeply disoriented discourse.

Keywords: nonestablishment, nonsectarian, public secularism, First Amendment, religious freedom

JEL Classification: K00, K40

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Nonestablishment Under God? The Nonsectarian Principle (Spring 2004). U San Diego Public Law Research Paper No. 04-08. 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)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics