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Performing the Constitutional Landscape

Performing the Constitutional Landscape

(p.53) 3 Performing the Constitutional Landscape
Landscapes of the Secular
Nicolas Howe
University of Chicago Press

This chapter shifts focus from street-level litigation and lived religious politics to the rarified world of constitutional law. Focusing on what, for many Americans, is the ultimate symbol of law—the Ten Commandments—it shows how the Supreme Court has used the rhetoric of reverence and offense to construct a model of civil spectatorship, a model embodied in the curiously disembodied and dispassionate figure of “the reasonable observer.” As it shows in a detailed analysis of a landmark case from the early 2000s, Van Orden v. Perry, struggles over the emotional and aesthetic sensibilities of this fictional character reveal the enduring power of secular law to naturalize a distinctly protestant semiotic ideology of the “merely symbolic” landscape.

Keywords:   ten commandments, religious symbols, First Amendment, civil society, Van Orden v Perry

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