How Faith and Law Intersect

At our April Theology on Tap, Judge David Price of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice spoke on the topic “Faith and Law: Do They Intersect?” Here, two Faith Connections young adult vounteers reflect on his talk:

Judge Price’s reflections on dispute resolution resonated with me. Judge Price asked us to consider dispute resolution as a bottom-up process in which the parties first attempt to find a solution between themselves, then with the assistance of lawyers, then through mediation, and finally, if all else fails, through the formal court system. It occurred to me that this type of dispute resolution requires a faithful effort by both parties, who must set aside grudges and bitterness in order to find an agreeable solution. If more people could negotiate in good faith and take part in mediation, then justice could be achieved more easily. Judge Price also asked us to remember that Jesus refused to judge conflicts between people. In Luke 12:14, Jesus refused to judge two brothers who were quarrelling over their inheritance. Greed fuelled their quarrel; if they followed Jesus' teaching to not worry about material possessions, then they would have been able to come to their own agreement. To those who wanted to execute the prostitute, He said, "Let those without sin cast the first stone." When I ponder these conflicts, I know that today, as before, many conflicts are fuelled by greed, grudges, inflexibility, fear, peer pressure, and a desire to cause suffering. Jesus taught us to forgive and love our enemies even if we must stand alone. While this attitude might seem defeatist to some, I believe that embracing this teaching will lead to peace in this world and everlasting life in the world to come.

Judge David Price spoke about two ways in which faith and law intersect: firstly, in the person of faith, and secondly, in the law itself.

How faith and law intersect in the person of faith:

Judge Price pointed out that the structure of our law favours a “bottom up” approach, in which people are first expected to attempt to find a solution between themselves. If unable to find a solution, they would then turn to a mediator or neutral arbitrator – which is an ancient institution. If still unable to come to terms, litigation before the courts would be available as a last resort. Judge Price asked us to consider:

• Jesus, who – when asked to judge between two brothers feuding over an inheritance – said, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”, and instead exhorted them to be unselfish (cf. Luke 12). Jesus always emphasized the importance of getting along with each other instead of using third parties. “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” (cf. Matthew 7)

• Oliver Wendell Holmes, who stated that “the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience,” because it’s experience – people’s interaction with each other – against which laws must be tested.

• Mother Theresa, who said, “Prayer begins with listening,” and likewise, judging begins with listening.

• Saint Thomas More, who – when about to be beheaded – said, “Let it be known that I died the King’s good servant, and God’s first,” because he remained loyal to the King, but would not compromise his faith in favour of secular authority.

How faith and law intersect in the law itself:

Judge Price explained how faith and law intersects in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the law against which all other laws are judged to determine whether they meet the standard of our respective religious faiths. The Charter’s Preamble states that “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”; and individual rights also interact with faith, such as “the right to life, liberty and security of the person.” We must keep asking ourselves what obligations lie on our government to meet the standards derived from our faith and embodied in the expression “the supremacy of God.” Judge Price believes there is a positive duty on government to provide the rights that are outlined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it embodies our collective values as human beings, regardless of religion.

Our role in regard to the interaction of faith and the law:

What does it mean to say we are founded on principles that recognize “the supremacy of God”? The courts have stayed judiciously away from that expression, but Judge Price believes there is still room in the courts to revisit the expression and to consider the ways in which our respective religions have articulated a group of values that run through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Charter is where we will find the direction in which the law will go in the future – but it is we who inform the law, by discussing, voting, and exercising our opinions toward others. We need to remember that we are the hands and feet of God, or, as John F. Kennedy said, “Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” Insofar as we are responsible for the law we create, we are doing that.

You can watch a short excerpt from Judge Price's talk: