Putting Religious Symbolism in Context: A Linguistic Critique of the Endorsement Test

70 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2005

See all articles by B. Jessie Hill

B. Jessie Hill

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

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Date Written: March 2005

Abstract

The Supreme Court's jurisprudence concerning public displays of religious symbols is notoriously unpredictable. In this Article, Professor Hill argues that the instability and apparent incoherence of the Supreme Court's religious symbolism jurisprudence is due to certain difficulties inherent in discerning the "meaning" or "message" of a religious display. In particular, she attributes the unpredictability of the jurisprudence to the fact that the meaning of the display is dependent on the "context," which is itself an unmanageable and unformalizable concept. This Article, which draws on insights from literary and linguistic theory, breaks with previous commentators' claims that the difficulties with the Court's jurisprudence in this area are due to doctrinal incoherence, thinly veiled politics, or unconscious bias, arguing instead that the problems reflected by the Supreme Court's case law inhere in the task of discerning the "social meaning" of a religious display.

Keywords: United States Supreme Court, Public displays of religious symbols, Social Meaning, Literary theory, Linguistic theory, Religious Symbolism, Establishment Clause, Church and State, Endorsement Test, Speech Act Theory

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Hill, Beatrice Jessie, Putting Religious Symbolism in Context: A Linguistic Critique of the Endorsement Test (March 2005). Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-8. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=687803

Beatrice Jessie Hill (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States

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