Wardle on Marriage and Religious Liberty

Lynn Wardle (BYU) has posted Marriage and Religious Liberty: Comparative Law Problems and Conflict of Laws Solutions, on SSRN. The abstract follows.

The purpose of this paper is to consider how the legal regulation of marriage impacts upon religious liberty, and vice versa, and how to reconcile conflicts between religious liberty and state marriage regulations. It is an area of increasing conflicts in a growing number of nations. Using comparative law, this article presents the range and complexity of state-versus-religion conflicts and of systemic legal approaches concerning the regulation of marriage that exist in the world today, focusing specifically on two issues: the formation/celebration of marriage generally, and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Having shown the scope of the conflicts between religious and political communities regarding the regulation of marriage, this article argues that the body of law known as “conflict of laws” provides a valuable model for the resolution of church-state disputes regarding the regulation of marriage.

This paper focuses on two communities that claim sovereignty over individuals: the State and religion. Conflicts between religions and states concerning their respective regulatory policies may create internal cognitive dissonance for religious communities and for states. Thus, there would seem to be internal harmony incentives to find a solution to avoid disputes. However, these incentives may be offset, neutralized, or overcome if there are communities within the state that wish to harm or reduce the influence of the religious community

New Translation of Vidyasagar’s “Hindu Widow Marriage”

Brian A. Hatcher (Tufts) has published a new translation of Vidyasagar’s Hindu Widow Marriage (Columbia University Press 2011), a nineteenth-century work arguing for the repeal of Hindu restrictions on widows’ remarriage. The publisher’s description follows.

Before the passage of the Hindu Widow’s Re-marriage Act of 1856, Hindu tradition required a woman to live as a virtual outcast after her husband’s death. Widows were expected to shave their heads, discard their jewelry, live in seclusion, and undergo regular acts of penance. Ishvarchandra Vidyasagar was the first Indian intellectual to successfully argue against these strictures. A Sanskrit scholar and passionate social reformer, Vidyasagar was a leading proponent of widow marriage in colonial India, urging his contemporaries to reject a ban that caused countless women to suffer needlessly.

Vidyasagar’s brilliant strategy paired a rereading of Hindu scripture with an emotional plea on behalf of the widow, resulting in an organic reimagining of Hindu law and custom. Vidyasagar made his case through the two-part publication Hindu Widow Marriage, a tour de force of logic, erudition, and Read more

Georgia Supreme Court Decides Two Church Property Disputes

The Georgia Supreme Court last week decided two important church property cases. The rulings, handed down the same day, favor national bodies in disputes with local congregations and add nuance to the “neutral principles of law” doctrine, associated with the US Supreme Court’s holding in Jones v. Wolf, which allows judges to resolve intra-church disputes by interpreting relevant legal documents in terms of neutral civil law principles. The first case, Rector, Wardens, and Vestrymen of Christ Church, Savannah v. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, applied the neutral principles doctrine to rule that an Episcopal parish in Savannah held property in trust for the parent body, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. As a consequence of this ruling, the parish, which has seceded from the national body and affiliated itself with an African diocese, must vacate the property and turn it over to the national church. In the second case, Presbytery of Greater Atlanta v. Timberridge Presbyterian Church, the court similarly concluded, again under the neutral principles doctrine, that a local Presbyterian congregation held its property in trust for the national body, the Presbyterian Church-USA.

Two points about these cases. First, they demonstrate that “hierarchical churches” – and both the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches qualify as such for purposes of American law – have learned, presumably in response to earlier court decisions, to amend and in some cases draw up church rules in a way that insures that local congregations hold property only in trust for the national body. Second, one typically thinks of the neutral principles doctrine in the context of “external” documents like deeds, contracts, and trust instruments.  In these cases, however, the court applied the doctrine to “internal” church rules. There’s a danger in applying the doctrine in that context. Canon law may operate in ways that lawyers trained in the civil law system do not fully appreciate; from the perspective of the church, “neutral” civil law principles may not seem neutral at all. In these two cases, the court believed, that was not a problem, as the relevant canons did not implicate religious principles. In future cases, that may not be so clear.