Research Handbook on Law and Religion
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Research Handbook on Law and Religion

Edited by Rex Ahdar

Offering an interdisciplinary, international and philosophical perspective, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores both perennial and recent legal issues that concern the modern state and its interaction with religious communities and individuals.
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Chapter 14: The justiciability and adjudication of religious disputes

Francois Venter

Abstract

State authorities, and particularly the courts, cannot escape the responsibility of dealing with disputes of a religious nature. To distinguish between the law as ‘rational’ and religion or belief as ‘irrational’ is unfounded. A court of law deals with the law, even when a religious dispute must be resolved. The judiciary is not a religious tribunal entitled to preside over religious doctrine. In exercising their function of maintaining legal order in the state, courts often adjudicate over state conduct with religious implications, religious conduct affecting the state, and inter- and intra-religion disputes. A core issue for judges in cases of this nature is their responsibility to ensure that justice is done notwithstanding the fact that they are incapable of divesting themselves of their own religious predilections. The solution to this difficulty lies not in secular neutrality (which is unachievable), but in objective adjudication through the application of the ‘golden rule’.

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