B. Jessie Hill


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.


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

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Michigan Law Review

Publication Information

104 Michigan Law Review 491 (2005)


COinS B. Jessie Hill Faculty Bio