5.3.3 Enactment of Religious Law

Enactment of religious law can take different forms: it might be the only law, or it might have a defined relationship with national law.

Religious law is a formalised articulation of rules which apply to members of a religious sect.  Religious courts may exist, to arbitrate in civil disputes such as divorces or to specify punishments for breaches of their law.  Religious law is allowed to coexist with national law In most countries, but Ayatollah Khomeini “made Iran the world’s first Islamic republic in 1979: turning it into a theocracy.

An agreement to be bound by religious law can be regarded as part of a person’s beliefs, so it is arguable that religious law should be permitted under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1).  Equally, those who do not recognise a system of religious law should have the right not to be bound by it.

In practice, as described in the following sub-sections, the enactment of religious law can take three different forms – as described in the following sub-sections:

●  There are countries, theocracies, where it is the only law ( This is problematic because religious law always depends upon subjective interpretation and there is no separation of powers.

●  There are ways of formalising the relationship between religious law and State law (, always allowing appeals to State law to override religious courts where necessary.

●  It is possible to ensure that State law does not conflict with religious law (, if both are carefully drafted. People must be free to leave the sect if they want to.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/533a.htm.