Law, Religion, and Constitutionalism

A Canopy Forum Thematic Series
September 2020

Law, religion, and constitutionalism are deeply entwined concepts. Very early on in Western legal tradition, the idea of a supreme law from with the legitimacy of other forms of legislation stemmed and to which such norms had to confirm was often associated with religious law. From the Scriptural laws of the Torah and Qur’an, to the Natural Law traditions and Papal declarations in Christendom, the ordinary human processes of political lawmaking and adjudication were often measured against a higher “supreme law” generally attributed to the ultimate sovereign — God. Such ideas carried through to the development of American constitutionalism in the late 18th century, with God-as-sovereign replaced by “We the People”—an idea rooted in earlier Enlightenment political philosophy that would in the following centuries change the way the world thought about government, rights, law, and religion as well.  

This development complicated the relationship between law and religion for individuals and politics as well. Now, many religiously committed people had to learn to navigate their commitments to two distinct sovereigns and two different supreme laws. The sometimes competing pulls of secular citizenship and religious affiliation precipitated new tensions and spawned new ways of defining religion, law, public and private spheres, and the state.

On September 17th, the United States commemorates Constitution Day, the day on which in 1789, the Philadelphia Convention adopted the original United States Constitution and delivered it to the States for ratification. In honor of that historic event, Canopy Forum is pleased to offer this series on Law, Religion, and Constitutionalism, which features reflections from a number of prominent scholars hailing for several distinct religious traditions and nationalities.