Guest Blog: Michael Biral: Do religious institutions have the right to shape public policy?

Blog post:

Law is taught as something that comes from a concrete set of ideals. In America, we are taught that the Constitution and Bill of Rights were heavily influenced by the enlightenment. Our system of government was influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans. What seems to be missing is the explanation of the myths behind our laws. I believe the big idea of this course so far has been to point out that our system of law has been influenced not only by the things we can see (prior laws, thinkers, etc) but also by the things we cannot see such as religion and mythology, without these we would not have our laws. Without Myths, we would not have laws.

I feel that the Robert Cover article expands on this idea. Cover argues that the courts should take the perspective of Roger Williams when dealing with issues of religion. The state should stay out of religious matters to protect religion. This contrasts with the Jeffersonian model of religious freedom, that enacts a wall of separation between church and state. While Cover makes a compelling argument for the freedom of religion from state intrusion. it does raise some questions. Do “Antinomians” have to accept state law if they are receiving funding from the state? No one should dispute religious orders to abide by their own laws when they are living in separate communities; however, does this give religious groups the right to ignore civil rights legislation such as was the case with Bob Jones University? Cover was writing this piece at a time before social issues such as gay marriage and gay rights became hot button issues, but the article raises the question to me that, do religious organizations whom believe these acts to be immoral have the right to shape policy that will in essence make their laws, laws of the land? Is one thing for a religious group to be asked to live out their religious beliefs, but what would Cover say to those groups that try to impose their religious law on others that do not share their religious beliefs? Would those groups argue that the laws they disagree with are not valid because they ignore the nomos and narrative of religion and myth?

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