SECULARISM AND THE CONSTITUTION: CAN GOVERNMENT BE TOO SECULAR?

Jorge O. Elorza

Abstract


     When the “jurisdictions” of religion and science overlap, the conclusions they each reach sometimes conflict. For example, religiously conservative views towards sex or the formation of the universe may be undermined by the secular instruction students receive in public schools. With respect to normative matters, such as views towards sex, courts have resolved the conflicts by stating that public school teachers can neither directly contradict religious beliefs nor compel adherence to the secular view. However, with respect to empirical matters, such as how planets formed, courts have implicitly recognized—although never expressly stated—that a different standard must apply. So long as sufficient evidence exists to support an empirical claim, a public school may teach it. The fact that it directly contradicts a deeply held religious belief, as does evolution for example, is irrelevant.

     How far does this principle extend? If scientific evidence leads us to conclude that a particular aspect of God cannot be true, can this be taught in the public schools? In order to explore this issue, I first lay out a framework that isolates the tension that exists between religion and science and that introduces the concept of the memist God. Second, I examine the extent to which science has spoken to the question of God’s existence and I determine that it has certainly addressed one particular aspect. Specifically, science has disconfirmed the claim that the theist God has the power to violate the laws of physics. Last, once the issues are properly identified and the framework set, I explore whether teaching the non-existence of the theist God would violate the underlying values of the religion clauses. I conclude, first, that teaching that the theist God does not exist would not violate any of the underlying values and second, that the consequences of doing so are not as far-reaching as may be initially believed.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/lawreview.2010.152

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