Sam Gregg, Acton’s director of research, makes the case that limiting religious liberty also infringes upon economic growth in The American Spectator. Gregg uses history to illustrate the point.
Unjust restrictions on religious liberty often come in the form of limiting the ability of members of particular faiths to participate fully in public life. Catholics in the England of Elizabeth I and James I, for instance, were gradually stripped of most of their civil and political rights because of their refusal to conform to the established Church.
The assault on their freedom, however, went beyond this. Perhaps even more damaging was the attack on their economic liberty. This came in the form of crippling fines being levied on recalcitrant Catholics by governments short on revenue, not to mention restrictions on Catholics’ ability to own and use their property as they saw fit.
Of course, Catholics are not the only ones to suffer such a fate. Jews have the same terrible mistreatment as part of their history, as do Orthodox and Coptic Christians. Now, Gregg says, China seems to be catching on to the fact that religious liberty and economic freedom are always linked.
Over the past thirty years, China has embraced some economic freedom. Less known is that it’s in those Chinese provinces permitted to somewhat liberalize their economies that millions of Chinese have embraced Christianity.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Once you grant liberty in one area, it’s hard to preclude freedom from spreading to other spheres. Economic liberty, for instance, requires and encourages people to think and choose freely. Without this, entrepreneurship is impossible. It’s challenging, however, to limit this reflection and choosing to economic questions. People start asking social questions, political questions, and, yes, religious questions. And many Chinese have decided Christianity is the answer to their religious ponderings.
Gregg is quick to point out that China is by no way “free” when it comes to religious liberty, but the citizens of that country may very well change that.
In Becoming Europe, Samuel Gregg examines economic culture - the values and institutions that inform our economic priorities - to explain how European economic life has drifted in the direction of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "soft despotism", and the ways in which similar trends are manifesting themselves in the United States.