This lesson will provide information on the role of religion in secular law.

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[THEME MUSIC] Welcome to this tutorial on law and religion. In early societies, the difference between law and religion wasn't always so clear cut. Morals and law were really indistinguishable.

And then as societies transitioned from being hunter-gatherers to agriculture, there is an increasing stratification and specialization in society. And a priestly class begins to emerge. And over time, law and religion become separate institutions.

I drew here a Babylonian ziggurat, which is where one of the first formal priesthoods emerged.

So, in modern societies it might not be so obvious how religion and law are related, especially in the Western democracies where there's often enshrined in government a separation of church and state. As in the US Constitution, the First Amendment, which has a Free Exercise Clause and an Anti-Establishment Clause.

The Constitution says that Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. And these are known as the Free Exercise Clause and the Anti-Establishment Clause.

Theocracy in the world today exists mainly in Muslim countries, although there are still a few holdovers from Christian theocracy. The Vatican state, of course, is a tiny little Catholic city-state in Italy. But for the most part theocracies in the world today are Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

And in these countries, the clerics have a powerful influence over the government and they enforce Sharia law, which is law that is based on the Koran. Theocracy literally means "rule by God," but of course in practice this means rule by a religious elite.

And the United States today there's been a lot of controversy over the Ten Commandments posted in courthouses. And groups on the religious right, both Christian organizations and conservative political activist groups, are claiming that the separation of church and state is a myth. And these groups would like to see an officially Christian United States.

And oftentimes these groups somewhat creatively interpret the lives of the founding fathers to say that the United States is a Christian country and that the founding fathers were upstanding Christian men and that they always intended for the United States to be a Christian country. It's not really clear how that would work out in practice, but at least these conservative groups want to see this happen.

So even in the United States there is a drive for theocracy, and some conservative groups want to see the separation of church and state removed.

Just to recap we said that in early societies it was often hard to distinguish between religion and law. But that as agriculture emerged and societies became more developed, law and religion began to take on separate identities, as in today's liberal democracies in which church and state are considered to be separate institutions.

We talked about the Ten Commandments which have caused controversy across the country as they are displayed in courthouses. The Ten Commandments were the main commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. And are the foundation for Judeo-Christian ethics.

Conservative groups within the United States have claimed the United States is a Christian nation and sought to impose a version of theocracy, which is government by religious leaders and/or according to religious principles.

Terms to Know
  • Separation of Church and State

    The creation of separate religious and secular spheres in a society.

  • Ten Commandments

    The principal divine ordinances given to Moses by God.

  • Theocracy

    Government by religious leaders and/or according to religious principles.