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Home Critical Analysis/Archives ERROR AT THE APEX
The Error Multiplied
Reynolds vs U.S.
The majority opinion in Zaheer-ud-Din referring to Reynolds observed:
“The Supreme Court of America in the case of Reynolds, v. United States.(98 US 145-168 (1878)) held that “Congress was deprived of all legislatable power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order…. Laws are made for the Government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices”. [03]
(emphasis added)
Reynolds was a case more than one hundred year old. The court was dealing with polygamy, which, in the American context, was considered to be a practice, in violation of social duties, and subversion of good order.
In “Reynolds” the court quoted from Madison to say that, “religion or the duty we owe the creator” was not within the cognizance of civil government [04].” The court also quoted Mr. Jefferson on religious freedom saying, “that to suffer the civil Magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of Opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty [05]. Jefferson was further quoted to have declared,
“that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of the civil Govt. for it’s officers to interfere when principles breakout in overt acts against peace and good order[06].
(emphasis added)
The court, in Reynolds, concluded that,
“In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the state.” [07]
The court validated the law against polygamy on the reasoning that marriage, while from it’s very nature is a sacred obligation, nevertheless, in most of the civilized nations, is a civil contract and is regulated by civil law.[08]
The Court observed that:
“We think it may safely be said, there never has been a time in any state that polygamy has not been an offence against the society, cognizable by the civil courts and punishable with more or less severity.” [09]
So the law against polygamy was being validated because it was in accordance with a social duty and because marriage was a civil contract and because polygamy has always been considered an offence in American society. The court validated the law also because otherwise it will be discriminatory, applying two sets of laws to two sets of people, “This will be introducing new element into criminal law.” the court said. [10]
In any case no law declared Mormons as “not-Christians”. They were not debarred from professing their faith in Christianity, even though many people considered Mormons not to be Christians, nor were the Mormons prohibited from adopting Christian practices. The law under challenge in Zaheer-ud-Din clearly provided discrimination between two sets of people and it penalized not a social obligation but professing religious belief and devotional acts which according to Reynolds is beyond the reach of legislature. The practices made punishable by Ordinance XX had been practiced by Ahmadis for more than hundred years and had never been considered an offence or even undesirable in the past. Ordinance XX clearly does not refer to any social duty. The practices prohibited by Ordinance XX are not in violation of any social duty. The profession of faith and the propagation by Ahmadis were prohibited on their supposed ill tendency. “Reynolds” obviously did not apply.
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