Religious Arbitration and the New Multiculturalism: Negotiating Conflicting Legal Orders

75 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2011 Last revised: 15 Nov 2011

Date Written: November 15, 2011


This Article considers a trend towards what I have termed the “new multiculturalism,” where conflicts between law and religion are less about recognition and symbolism and more about conflicting legal orders. Nothing typifies this trend more than the increased visibility of religious arbitration, whereby religious groups use current arbitration doctrine to have their disputes adjudicated not in U.S. courts and under U.S. law, but before religious courts and under religious law. This dynamic has pushed the following question to the forefront of the multicultural agenda: under what circumstances should U.S. courts enforce arbitration awards issued by religious courts in accordance with religious law. Indeed, with growing skepticism regarding the oppressive potential of religious majorities, critics have questioned whether religious arbitration has any place in a regime dedicated to individual liberties. By contrast, this Article contends that current arbitration doctrine can meet the challenges of the new multiculturalism. To do so, this Article makes two concrete policy recommendations: (1) courts should redefine the scope of enforceability of religious arbitration awards by limiting the application of the public policy exception to vacate religious arbitration awards and (2) courts should expand the application of unconscionability to void religious arbitration agreements.

Keywords: Multiculturalism, Religion, Dispute Resolution, Arbitration, Sharia Law, Jewish Law

JEL Classification: K10, K40

Suggested Citation

Helfand, Michael A., Religious Arbitration and the New Multiculturalism: Negotiating Conflicting Legal Orders (November 15, 2011). New York University Law Review, Vol. 86, 2011; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011/10. Available at SSRN:

Michael A. Helfand (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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