Are questions about the legal systems of organized religions on-topic? Some organized religions have their own legal systems that have their own statutes, procedures, and laws of evidence (e.g. Roman Catholic Canon Law, the Ecclesiastical Court system of the Church of England, various courts that exist in the LDS religion, Jewish Beit Din courts, etc.). Laws often cover practical questions of the validity of conversions, rules for selecting clergy, offenses that result in excommunication, requirements for marriage, etc. that actually come up once in a while as practical cases.
The practical relevance of religious law in the day-to-day lives of followers varies dramatically - in some faiths, such as the LDS church, religious courts are common occurrences and many (if not most) followers encounter one or at least know someone who has encountered one, while in others, religious courts mostly exist in theory and are used only for the most egregious issues (my own religion has procedures for establishing a court, selecting judges, admitting evidence, issuing sanctions (mostly limited to defrocking clergy and excommunicating public heretics), etc., but, as far as I can tell, my local congregation has never seen an actual case filed in over 30 years, as most people prefer resolving issues using less formal methods instead, e.g. applying social pressure to get someone to leave rather than file formal heresy charges).
To some extent, I would imagine that questions on religious systems of law might be better asked on sites devoted to those religions (and, for example, questions on Jewish legal proceedings are on topic at Judaism.SE), but then that is not actually a legitimate reason on SE to rule something off-topic here.
- Many religious legal systems have statutes, rules of procedure, precedent, etc. that can be analyzed in a similar manner to secular law.
- Secular law and religious law have developed together over thousands of years and have influenced each other over time.
- In many ancient societies, the difference between religious law and secular law was tenuous at best, or nonexistent at worst, as religion and the state were essentially one.
- Many modern religious law systems are heavily integrated into the religions themselves and have little relevance outside of followers of that religion.
- Questions about religious law could devolve into religious debates (e.g. your question is irrelevant because your religion is false, convert to mine please).
- Some religions are decentralized and do not have final authorities (e.g. legislatures, supreme courts, etc.) to establish binding precedent (some do, however).
- In religions that rely on heavily codified rules and procedures, almost any question about the religion can be rephrased as a legal question. For example, the question "Is fooing the bar permitted in Orthodox Judaism?" can be rephrased as "Is it a violation of Torah Law to foo the bar?".
- This could lead to a lot of "Is X a sin in Y religion?" questions flooding the site.
Possible religious law questions that could be asked:
- Is hearsay admissible in a Mormon High Council Court?
- What are the qualifications required to be appointed as a Roman Catholic Canon Law judge?
- May a member of the Greek Orthodox Church serve as an attorney in a case before a Church of England ecclesiastical judge?
- Is belief in the Theory of Evolution sufficient cause to defrock an elder of Jehovah's Witnesses for heresy?
- I found this Jewish Beit Din case from 1850. Is it valid precedent today among Lubavitcher Hasids?
- Does the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod recognize same-sex marriage?
- When filing a motion before the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome, must the motion be written in Latin?
- What defenses were available against a charge of Schism in a Roman Catholic Canon Law court in AD 1200?
- An Anglican and a Mormon were married in a civil ceremony. They both want to convert to the Jehovah's Witnesses faith. Is their marriage recognized as valid or must they be re-married in a JW ceremony?
Obvious possible options:
- Any and all questions about religious law are on-topic.
- All religious law questions are off-topic.
- Religious law questions are off-topic except to the extent that religious law is, or has been, incorporated into national law systems (for example, Shariah courts in Malaysia).
- Religious law questions are on-topic only in cases where there is or was a strong overlap between religious or secular law, or where the law of a particular religion holds, or held, particular influence over society. For example, Catholic Canon Law in 12th century England, or Orthodox Jewish courts in Israel today. Cases in which a religion has negligible influence on how society operates are off-topic (for example, the internal policies of a small Wiccan coven operating out of a basement in Boise, Idaho).
- The on-topicness of questions is determined by how interesting or useful they are with respect to the study of law and/or history. For example, a question involving the requirements for publishing verdicts for 14th century Catholic courts in France would probably be on-topic, while large numbers of "I found this random church in the phone book, do they allow persons with tattoos to serve as ushers?" type questions would be essentially useless and therefore off-topic.
- Questions about religious procedural law are on-topic (e.g. rules of evidence, process for filing cases, qualifications of judges, etc.), but substantive laws (e.g. "Can you get excommunicated from X church for doing Y?") are not.