Tebbe on Government Endorsement and Disparagement

Nelson Tebbe (Brooklyn Law School) has posted Government Endorsement and Disparagement. The abstract follows.

What are the constitutional limits on government endorsement? Recently, a sense has been spreading that when the government speaks on its own account, it faces few restrictions. That impression has been fed by two doctrines and their accompanying literatures. First, the Court’s cases developing the government speech doctrine have implied that the only constitutional restriction on government expression is the Establishment Clause, and scholars have adopted that assumption. Officials cannot endorse, say, Christianity, but otherwise they enjoy wide latitude to promote democracy or denigrate smoking. Second, experts on religious freedom likewise have assumed that there is no secular Establishment Clause. So the belief that government is free to endorse and denigrate secular ideas is common, thanks in part to the Supreme Court and in part to scholarship on free speech and religious freedom. But it is mistaken. In this Article, I argue that in fact the Constitution properly limits government endorsement through multiple provisions. I give examples of situations where official expression runs up against such limitations, including racialized speech, electioneering, same-sex marriage exclusions, political gerrymandering, and messages concerning reproductive decisions. Limits in these areas are grounded in equal protection, due process, and free speech itself. Together, my examples suggest a constitutional theme, government nondisparagement, that has been overlooked. Drawing out that theme, I suggest new contributions to theoretical debates surrounding political morality, free speech, and religious freedom.

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