When Religious Beliefs and the Law Clash

Religion cannot be used as a defense for non-consensual sexual relations between a husband and wife, according to a recent ruling by the New Jersey Appellate Court.

The Appellate Court recently overturned a decision by a Hudson County Superior Court judge whereby a woman had been refused a restraining order against her husband after she claimed he forced her to have non-consensual sexual relations. The husband’s defense was that the couple’s Muslim religion obligated his wife to have sexual relations with him whenever he wanted. (1)

The Superior Court judge recognized that this was a case where the law and religious beliefs clashed and that under the law, the wife has a right to refuse her husband’s advances. However, the judge ruled that the court did not believe the husband “acted with criminal intent.” The judge further stated that the husband “was operating under his belief,” and that the act was “something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.” (2) As a result, the judge denied the final restraining order the wife was requesting.

The Appellate Court disagreed, stating that the husband’s actions were “unquestionably knowing.” The Appellate Court ruled that the judge was mistaken in his determination to except the husband from New Jersey statutes because of his religious beliefs and decided in favor of issuing a final restraining order against the husband.

In the United States, marital rape is considered a crime. In some states, the prosecutability depends on additional violence used in committing this crime. New Jersey, however, is one of many states where husbands are not exempt from prosecution for marital rape. (3)

(1) http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2010/08/state_court_throws_out_religio.html

(2) http://www.examiner.com/x-10853-Portland-Humanist_examiner~y2010m7d26-Court-rejects-religious-rape-defense-on-appeal

(3) http://ncmdr.org/state_law_chart.html