Journal Article

Personal Autonomy and the Option of Religious Law

Farrah Ahmed

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 24, issue 2, pages 222-244
Published in print August 2010 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online April 2010 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI:
Personal Autonomy and the Option of Religious Law

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The ‘millet’ and ‘personal law’ systems, found in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and Israel, are long-standing models of state accommodation of religious norms in family law. This article, a work of applied normative legal theory, uses the Indian system of personal laws as a test case to consider the extent to which these modes of accommodation undermine personal autonomy. In particular, it studies the claim, made both in the context of the Indian personal law system and in debates in other jurisdictions on the use of religious norms in family law, that if people had a choice between religious law and generally applicable secular law, this would remove any objection to such systems on the grounds of personal autonomy. It also studies the further claim that such a power to choose would actually make the personal law system better for personal autonomy than a system of general secular laws. This article concludes that these claims do not stand. Liberal states, including the UK and Canada, increasingly facing calls from religious groups to reform family law in order to accommodate religious norms. The conclusions of this paper contribute to the broader question of whether these states should do so, as well as the question of what form any accommodation should take.

Journal Article.  10674 words. 

Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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