Friday, December 28, 2012

We saw in the discussion on “what is Law?” that law has great authority which other types of rules do not have. This can partly be traced back to the close connection that once existed, and still often does, between law and religion. In many early societies religion was law and vice versa. Laws were regarded as having been laid down by the divine being or beings worshiped and revered by the community. The laws of Manu which is believed to be compiled by Brahmin priests contain many practices of the Hindus. The Ten Commandments could be seen as ancient Christian law, which was “handed down by God”. Sometimes the laws may have clearly emanated from a human being, such as the king, but often he was considered in some way divine or having a connection with God or gods.  

 Even today there is a clear overlap between religion and law. Some of the most serious religious offenses in the major religions of the world are legal offenses too. Prohibitions against killing and stealing are obvious examples. In the addition some countries recognize the rules of the country’s religion as the law of the land. This is why we say that Saudi Arabia, for instance, is governed by Islamic law. Similarly in Sri Lanka we recognize and enforce Islamic law with the general law of the country.

However it is important to note that not all religious offenses are legal ones. Religion emphasizes and reflects morality more than law. Most religions such undesirable activities may make society a better place. But most democratic societies in the world have decided not to use the law to prevent or punish such activities, either because they consider it unnecessary to do so for the smooth functioning of society, or impractical, or both.

Similarly the law touches on a wide variety of matters which have nothing to do with religion or morality. A law requiring that helmets be worn when riding motorcycles, or that a Last Will to be valid must be signed by two witnesses, has no religious or moral element. These laws exist merely to safeguard the community and its individuals in different ways. The former is to minimize the hazard in road accidents and latter to prevent fraud.