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03/15/2018

Lee Strang: The Original Meaning of 'Religion' in the First Amendment
Michael Ramsey

Lee J. Strang (University of Toledo College of Law) has posted The Original Meaning of 'Religion' in the First Amendment: A Test Case of Originalism's Utilization of Corpus Linguistics (Brigham Young University Law Review, Vol. 2017).  Here is the abstract: 

Originalism is the theory of constitutional interpretation that identifies the constitutional text’s public meaning when it was ratified as its authoritative meaning. Corpus linguistics is the study of word-use regularities and patterns, primarily in written texts. In a prior article, I argued that originalists should utilize corpus linguistics to facilitate originalism’s capacity to accurately uncover this original meaning. However, my arguments there were theoretical; this Essay provides a “test case” of corpus linguistics’ capacity to increase originalism’s methodological accuracy.

This Essay accomplishes three modest goals. First, it provides a practical example of the application of corpus linguistics to originalism. This affords a first-cut illustration of the extent to which corpus linguistics can make originalism’s methodology more rigorous. Second, this Essay utilizes the tools of corpus linguistics to provide additional evidence of the original meaning of “religion” in the First Amendment. Third, based on this experience, it describes some of the challenges originalist scholars will likely face employing corpus linguistics.