This Essay considers the historic relationship between symbolic public expressions of racial and religious identity—in particular, Confederate symbols and Christian religious displays. These displays sometimes comprise shared symbology, and the adoption of this symbology overlaps at distinct moments in U.S. history in which Confederate and Christian symbolism converged to express messages of combined religious and racial superiority. This Essay argues that these forms of expression can best be understood as “speech acts” that seek to construct a particular social reality, often in defiance of political and social fact. They thus not only express but also enact social hierarchies. It further argues that the Supreme Court’s most recent opinions dealing with the constitutionality of religious displays continue this social and political project of constructing a white Christian identity.


First Amendment, Establishment Clause, religious displays, Confederate monuments, Christian nationalism, race, speech acts

Publication Date


Document Type


Publication Information

108 Iowa Law Review 2215 (2023)


COinS Jessie Hill Faculty Bio