The law evokes a sense of immovability and stasis. In the United States, as in many other countries, legal proceedings are infused with pomp, tradition, and precedence. We expect that legality has permanence: we use the term “natural law” to describe the unchanging working of the universe, we campaign to classify actions as “illegal” as a means to order social ethics, and we use the courtroom to adjudicate categories of existence, from life, to science and religion, to citizenship. We look to the law to organize and regulate social relationships and to express our collective views of morality and justice.
But spring 2017 is a strange moment to write about the law. With each passing day—whether marked by the institution of new restrictions on immigration, the exercise of executive power, or conflict within the American legal system—the coherence of any notion of “law” or “legal framework” seems more and more illusory. In this context, how can we conceive of the law as anything more than words on paper?
This difficult moment reveals a troubling reality: the law never has been, nor is it now, anything like a unified, uncontested, or universally respected set of rules and practices. It has always been fragmented, at times weak, or brutal. It is only that this political moment has revealed this fragmentation regardless of how one normally encounters legal institutions. For communities of color, LGBTQ individuals, religious minorities, and others, this has long been an inescapable reality.
This issue of Cosmologics is focused on a single theme: how the law both shapes and is shaped by scientific and religious practice. The pieces in this issue don’t take a unified approach, nor do they treat legal concepts the same way. Instead, they offer a contrasting and conflicting set of arguments, each of which helps us put our current legal instabilities into some kind of broader perspective.
The coming years will undoubtedly contain tense conflict over environmental regulation, civil rights, definitions of citizenship, and health care. These conflicts will draw simultaneously on understandings of religious liberty, scientific evidence, and the law. The ability to understand the scientific, legal, and religious contexts in which these conflicts occur will be a prerequisite for any attempt to act in a way informed, precise, and just.
Image from Flickr via takomabibelot