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Secular principles, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Religious arbitration, Co-religionist commerce


Recent polls indicate that the U.S. population is getting less religious and more secular. This seems to mirror the nation’s— and its laws’—movement away from reflecting certain traditional values. While these movements have left some members of the religious population in a precarious situation, surrounded by a society whose values are changing before their eyes, it has also caused the religious to cling tighter to their respective faiths and become more entrenched in the values they assert.

As the government has, slowly but surely, aligned itself with the popular shift away from traditional religious values, the pleas of the religious to keep their principles interlaced with the laws that govern the country have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, instead of looking to the government to continue weaving religion into society or proselytizing to recruit external followers, religions and their faithful have begun to look inward for ways to bridge the gap between what they believe and what society believes.

Indeed, over the last sixty years, the substance of American law has come to reflect secular principles, rather than the religious values upon which it was historically based. The law has grown increasingly secular, with a sharper focus on the religiously neutral principles of equality and fairness, rather than the historical commitment to traditional values. This development coincides with significant demographic changes: there is no longer a majority religion in the United States. While most Americans still identify as Christians, no denomination or sect predominates, and most Christians or Jews no longer look to their faith for their basic values. Moreover, since the mid-twentieth century, the United States has become more of a multicultural society. It is increasingly comfortable with multiple expressions of individual and sub-group identity coexisting in the public sphere. In sociological terms, the metaphor of the ‘melting pot’ has been replaced by a salad bowl.

So while the culture wars still sometimes flare, religious communities have begun to realize that they are all minority groups. Secular law is no longer broadly reflective of traditional values, nor will this change in the foreseeable future. Whether this has become apparent to everyone or not, it is motivating religious communities to step outside the framework of secular law into the realm of private dispute resolution in order to preserve their communities. Even more importantly, the common social fabric has shifted to a secular model—gay marriage is just the most public crier of this change—which predominates in every value-driven public discussion, leaving traditional religious communities feeling less and less comfortable with general social mores and, at the same time, increasingly disconnected from common public discourse or law. Although religious groups may not be able to influence secular law as much as they once did, they have changed their approach, focusing on developing their own internal legal bodies. This follows key developments in the U.S. legal system.

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Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution