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Liberalism and the Establishment Clause

By Steven H. Shiffrin


Every political theory tolerates some things and not others. Every political theory promotes a particular kind of person even if it denies it is doing so. But the best liberalism does not confine itself to promoting a Rawlsian-tolerant citizen. Liberalism, like conservatism, has greater ambitions in the socialization of the young. The best liberalism, a neo-Millian liberalism, promotes a creative, independent, autonomous, engaged citizen and human being who works with others to make for a better society and speaks out against unjust customs, habits, institutions, traditions, hierarchies, and authorities. Although government may promote a particular conception of the good life, in the overwhelming majority of cases, government does not purport to enter into the question of what God has to say. When government acts, it does so for civic reasons, not because God has something to say about the subject. These actions do not deny the existence of God or that God has something to say about the subjects in question. For many, the Establishment Clause is the price of religious peace. For others, it is necessary to protect religions from demagogic politicians, and for others still it protects religious liberty. These reasons are consistent with religious belief, but they, and other reasons supporting the Establishment Clause, need not be accompanied by religious belief. In the end, however, the Establishment Clause for the most part requires that the question of what God has to say must be bracketed from the governmental agenda

Topics: Establishment clause, Religious liberty, Free exercise clause, Mark D. Rosen, John Rawls, Steven Smith, Ronald Dworkin, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Religion Law
Publisher: Scholarship@Cornell Law: A Digital Repository
Year: 2003
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