Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Religion Definition:

Faith and worship in a god.

Related Terms: God, Church

In Re South Place Ethical Society, Justice Dillon defined religion as follows:

"Religion, as I see it, is concerned with man's relationship with God, and ethics are concerned with man's relations with man. The two are not the same, and are not made the same by sincere inquiry into the question: what is God?

"Two of the essential attributes of religion our faith and worship; faith in a God in worship of that God."

In Williamson & others v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Justice Walker adopted these words:

"The trend of authority (unsurprisingly in an age of increasingly multi-cultural societies and increasing respect for human rights) is towards a newer, more expansive, reading of religion....

religion the pope in Rome"Christianity is a religion, and that the appellants are sincere, practising Christians. Those who profess the Christian religion are divided among many different churches and sects, sometimes hostile to each other, which is a cause of both sadness and scandal. That some Christians should believe that the Bible not merely permits but enjoins them to have corporal punishment administered to their children may be surprising to many, but it is by no means an extreme instance. Some sects claiming to be Christian believed that polygamy was not merely permitted but actually enjoined by the Bible. Others believe that medical treatment by blood transfusion is forbidden by the Bible and is sinful, even if it is the only means of saving life.

"Countless thousands have suffered cruel deaths because at different periods during the last two thousand years parts of the Christian Church thought that the Bible not merely permitted but enjoined them to torture and kill apostates, heretics and witches.... The last persons to go to the stake in this country ... was in 1612....

"A religious belief, like a philosophical belief, must be consistent with the ideals of a democratic society, and that it must be compatible with human dignity, serious, important, and (to the extent that a religious belief can reasonably be required so to be) cogent and coherent."

In 1983, the High Court of Australia used these words in Church of the New Faith:

"Religious belief is more than a cosmology; it is a belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle. But religious belief is not by itself a religion. Religion is also concerned, at least to some extent, with a relationship between man and the supernatural order and with supernatural influence upon his life and conduct.... Religion encompasses conduct, no less than belief. Professor Max Mueller, an early scholar in comparative religion, wrote (Natural Religion, 1899): 'When men began to feel constrained to do what they do not like to do, or to abstain from what they would like to do, for the sake of some unknown powers which they have discovered behind the storm or the sky or the sun or the moon, then we are at last on religious ground.'

"What man feels constrained to do or to abstain from doing because of his faith in the supernatural is prima facie within the area of legal immunity, for his freedom to believe would be impaired by restriction upon conduct in which he engages in giving effect to that belief. The canons of conduct which he accepts as valid for himself in order to give effect to his belief in the supernatural are no less a part of his religion than the belief itself. Conversely, unless there be a real connexion between a person's belief in the supernatural and particular conduct in which that person engages, that conduct cannot itself be characterized as religious."

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