The Challenge of Co-Religionist Commerce

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formalism, Establishment Clause, religion, contextualism, co-religionist commerce, neutral principles of law


This Article addresses the rise of "co-religionist commerce" in the United States—that is, the explosion of commercial dealings that take place between co-religionists who intend their transactions to achieve both commercial and religious objectives. To remain viable, coreligionist commerce requires all the legal support necessary to sustain all other commercial relationships. Contracts must be enforced, parties must be protected against torts, and disputes must be reliably adjudicated.

Under current constitutional doctrine, co-religionist commercial agreements must be translated into secular terminology if they are to be judicially enforced. But many religious goods and services cannot be accurately translated without religious terms and structures. To address this translation problem, courts could make use of contextual tools of contract interpretation, thereby providing the necessary evidence to give meaning to co-religionist commercial agreements. However, contextual approaches to co-religionist commerce have been undermined by two current legal trends—one in constitutional law, the other in commercial law. The first is New Formalism, which discourages courts from looking to customary norms and relational principles to interpret commercial instruments. The second is what we call Establishment Clause Creep, which describes a growing judicial reticence to adjudicate disputes situated within a religious context. Together, these two legal developments prevent courts from using context to interpret and enforce co-religionist commercial agreements.

This Article proposes that courts preserve co-religionist commerce with a limited embrace of contextualism. A thorough inquiry into context, which is discouraged by both New Formalist and many Establishment Clause doctrines, would allow courts to surmise parties' intents and distinguish commercial from religious substance. Empowering the intent of co-religionist parties and limiting the doctrinal developments that threaten to undermine co-religionist commerce can secure marketplace dealings without intruding upon personal faith.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Contextualism (Philosophy), Business--Religious aspects, Freedom of religion--United States., Religion, Church and state--United States.