Is the Rule of Law an Antidote for Religious Tension? The Promise and Peril of Judicializing Religious Freedom

By Benjamin Schonthal, Tamir Moustafa, Matthew Nelson, and Shylashri Shankar
American Behavioral Scientist, 20 October 2015

Although “rule of law” is often regarded as a solution for religious conflict, this article analyzes the role of legal processes and institutions in hardening boundaries and sharpening antagonisms among religious communities. Using case studies from Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, and Pakistan, we highlight four specific mechanisms through which legal procedures, structures, and instruments can further polarize already existing religious conflicts. These mechanisms include the procedural requirements and choreography of litigation (Sri Lanka), the strategic use of legal language and court judgments by political and socioreligious groups (India), the activities of partisan activists who mobilize around litigation (Malaysia), and the exploitation of “public order” laws in contexts framed by antagonism targeting religious minorities (Pakistan).