Constitutional law and religion

In Dennis M. Patterson (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory. Blackwell Publishers (1996)
This essay on law and religion appears in the second edition of the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, edited by Dennis Patterson. It is a revision of a similar entry in the book’s first edition. The essay opens by broadly discussing the complex relationships between law and religion writ large as movements in human history – social, cultural, intellectual, and institutional phenomena with distinct but often overlapping logics and concerns. It then hones in on the efforts of secular law to make sense of religion and determine its place in the civil state. The essay argues that, while the questions raised by the American Bill of Rights’ religion clauses connect in some important respects to broader constitutional principles such as free expression and equality, the most interesting and theoretically excruciating conundrums involving religion need to be approached on their own unique terms. Two useful rubrics for such understanding are “separation” and “deference.” Any honest account must also admit, however, that there is an “intractable residue,” questions in the relation of religion and law to which there simply is no determinate or completely satisfactory answer. Finally, the essay emphasizes that the full texture of the legal imagination’s effort to grapple with religion only becomes apparent in the wider range of subconstitutional and nonconstitutional contexts beyond the standard litany of constitutional discourse.
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