- Special Issue

Introduction: Religious Law in the 21st Century

Article by: Michael A. Helfand

41 PEPP. L. REV. 991 (2014)

As the world has moved into the 21st century, new tensions between law and religion have become an almost daily affair. In only the last few years, such tensions have emerged regularly in the United States as courts legislators, and citizens all debate how government should navigate the increasing conflicts between the demands of law and the demands of religion. Such emerging tensions run the gamut of the human condition— from family life to employment relationships, and from individual claims of religious conscience to institutional claims of religious autonomy. Indeed, the Supreme Court has been called upon to weigh in on these recent skirmishes—and with increasing frequency. For example, in two recent decisions—Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC and Christian Legal Society v. Martinez—the Supreme Court considered conflicts between anti-discrimination norms and religious liberty. And in 2014, the Supreme Court resolved two more big-ticket conflicts between law and religion, holding a town’s legislative prayers to be constitutional and striking down a rule that had required for-profit, religiously-motivated employers to provide insurance that covered contraceptives. Moreover, these cases before the Supreme Court are just the beginning; other recent high profile tensions include a 2011 attempt to ban circumcision in San Francisco, the increased adoption of state anti-Sharia bills—bills that prevent state courts from considering religious law in their decisions—and state laws prohibiting religiously-motivated business owners from denying services for same-sex weddings.

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