Justice William O. Douglas's majority opinion in Zorach v. Clauson famously asserted that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." What did Douglas mean, and was he right? More recently, in cases involving the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance and other public expressions and symbols, the Supreme Court has said that the Constitution prohibits government from endorsing religion. Can Douglas's "Supreme Being" assertion be reconciled with the "no endorsement" prohibition? And does the more modern doctrine demand that we forget, falsify, or forswear our pervasively religious political heritage? This essay, presented as the William O. Douglas lecture at Gonzaga Law School, addresses those questions.
Constitutional Law | Public Law and Legal Theory | Religion Law
Date of this Version
Steven D. Smith, "Justice Douglas, Justice O'Connor, and George Orwell: Does the Constitution Compel Us to Disown Our Past" (June 2005). University of San Diego Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series. Working Paper 34.