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97 Harvard Law Review 1468 (1984)


The first amendment guarantees freedom from "law[s] respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The apparent tension between the two clauses of this provision has generated judicial confusion and scholarly disagreement. The perceived conflict between the religion clauses is the product of a particular understanding of what is most fundamental about human identity and the human situation - an understanding that derives from classical liberal political theory and that assumes a sharp division between the individual and his community. This Note proposes an alternative to the liberal conception of human identity, one that encompasses both the separateness of the self and its connection to others. This understanding of the self can reveal a unified purpose underlying the clauses and can explain the lingering tension within them as a manifestation of their joint effort to maintain equilibrium between the two aspects of the self. Analyzing this conception's implications not only betrays the inadequacies of present theories and suggests a more coherent interpretation of the existing doctrine; it also demonstrates that constitutional construction rests on choices among various conceptions of the self and of the relationship between the self and society.