What do the First Amendment’s religious clauses mean? How has the interpretation of their meaning changed over time? How has the Supreme Court applied the First Amendment to particular, often thorny, issues? Is the American state secular?
This class investigates and interrogates religious tension in American society through a history of law and constitutional interpretation. It assumes religion and law are both central to American life, and it uses courtroom contests to explore American religious history. It examines clashes between believers of the same and of different faiths, between believers and the state, and between believers and non-believers. It probes efforts to determine, and occasionally attempt to fix, the meaning of the free exercise and establishment clauses while questioning how they operate in tandem or at odds with one another. It investigates how the very act of legal decision-making renders definitions of and creates boundaries for religion.