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The Challenge of Strong Religion in the Liberal State
forthcoming in Boston University International Law Journal (2014)
  • Gila Stopler
Liberal states are struggling to find ways to deal with strong religion in a manner that would enable them to give due respect to the religious beliefs of citizens while at the same time to adhere to core liberal values such as respect for human rights and avoidance of undue entanglement of religious and state authority. One type of solution that has been offered is granting authority and autonomy to private religious tribunals, for example in the area of religious family law. Another type of solution is creating a direct link between state law and some religious obligations, as was done in the NY Get Laws. Both these solutions have been criticized by some as deviating from the pattern of religion state relations suitable for the liberal state, while others have embraced both .The article rejects the tendency to view these solutions as similar and claims that they differ in both the structure of religion state relations that they advance, and in their compatibility with human rights. It argues that only the latter solution, exemplified in the NY get laws, is a proper solution for the challenge of strong religion in a liberal state that aims to respect the rights of all, including weaker members of the community, such as women. To clarify the important differences between the two solutions, in terms of both structure and rights, the article employs a wide comparative perspective on religion state relations, analyzing such relations in both liberal and non-liberal countries and offering a typology of three distinct approaches that states take towards religion – nationalization, authorization and privatization. It assesses the advantages and disadvantages of these approaches in responding to the challenge of strong religion, and their compatibility with liberal religion state structure and with liberal human rights. It then employs this analysis to highlight the significant differences between the two solutions to the challenge of strong religion, rejecting the calls for the authorization of private religious tribunals and embracing the careful and conditional incorporation of religious considerations into civil law, as was done in the NY Get Laws, claiming that the latter is an appropriate and indeed essential means for respecting both strong religion and liberal values, since it enables the liberal state to acknowledge the importance of religious belief in people’s lives while at the same time protecting the rights of all its citizens.
  • religion state relations,
  • multiculturalism,
  • women's rights,
  • religious freedom
Publication Date
Citation Information
Gila Stopler. "The Challenge of Strong Religion in the Liberal State" forthcoming in Boston University International Law Journal (2014)
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