Department of Women’s Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
A Novel Constitutional Solution to a Persistent Dilemma
This paper explores a fundamental question: to what extent, if any, should religion play a political role in Iran? After briefly describing the historical roots of the problem beginning with the 1906-1907 Constitution, the paper looks at a wide range of constitutional models, which have crafted the relationship between state and religion in radically different ways. Next, it examines how the selection of a particular constitutional framework may potentially impact women’s rights and civil liberties. In particular, the paper explores ways in which a new constitution can address the tension between robust guarantees of gender equality and traditional religious standards which to date have strongly colored family law. The paper proposes a fresh approach, whereby any constitutional framework should erect separate spheres for mosque and state, while at the same time demonstrating respect for the religious faith of millions of Iranians by authorizing non-binding religious arbitral bodies which operate in parallel fashion to (but do not supersede) the secular judiciary. Finally, the paper also ascertains the need for the unequivocal defense of civil rights, which throughout Iran’s modern history have been systematically undermined by political or religious caveats.
Shiva Falsafi is a lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Women’s Studies. Shiva received her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law and her L.L.M. from Harvard Law School. Her research focuses on the history of social and political movements in Iran and also captures the relationship between multiculturalism and the religion clauses of the American Constitution. She is the author of “Civil Society and Democracy in Japan, Iran, Iraq and Beyond” in the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Spring 2010.