Category: Religious Liberty

Picture of Mississippi governor who signed HB 1523 into law. A federal judge recently struck down the law. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

Picture of Mississippi governor Phil Bryant, who signed HB 1523 into law. A federal judge recently struck down the law. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture

Late last month, a federal judge declared Mississippi’s “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” (HB 1523) unconstitutional. In response, legal scholar and libertarian Richard Epstein discussed issues of religious freedom and anti-discrimination initiatives on the latest episode of the Hoover Institution’s podcast, The Libertarian.

The Mississippi law was written to protect those with specific religious objections on issues of marriage, sexual acts outside of marriage, and gender. The law would give people with the specified views the state-protected right to act on these views in business dealings and in roles as administrators. Anti-discrimination LGBT groups argued that the law allows unconstitutional discrimination, and the judge agreed, striking down the law under the Equal Protection Clause. The judge also ruled that the law violated the Establishment Clause because it favored some religious beliefs over others. The case represents one of many recent clashes between freedom of conscience and anti-discrimination laws.

Epstein rejects the judge’s ruling as both legally misguided and finds error in the underlying understanding of tolerance.

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halo-effect1As church attendance continues to decline across the West, many have lamented the spiritual and social side effects, namely a weakening of civil society and the fabric of community life. What’s less discussed, however, is the economic impact of such a decline.

In a new study published by Cardus, Dr. Michael Wood Daly of the University of Toronto explores this very thing, researching the “economic value” of ten Toronto congregations, and finding “a cumulative estimated economic impact of approximately $45 million,” based on a combined budget of only $10 million. The study refers to this as the “halo effect,” noting the church’s value to the community, whether through social capital, community services, or physical resources and infrastructure.

The research builds on an existing framework from a pilot study done in 2010 by Partners for Sacred Spaces and the University of Pennsylvania, which resulted in similar findings. Focusing on 12 congregations, the Pennsylvania study found an economic contribution of roughly $52 million, concluding that local congregations can “now be viewed as critical economic catalysts.” Both studies evaluated a range of variables in the seven key categories, including (1) open space, (2) direct spending, (3) education, (4) magnet effect, (5) individual impacts, (6) community development, and (7) social capital and care. (more…)

The fight for religious liberty is only beginning to intensify in America, whether for retail giants, restaurant chains, bakers and florists, sacrificial nuns, or the imminent obstructions on the path paved by Obergefell vs. Hodges.

Yet even when facing these pressures for themselves, many American Christians still seek to withhold such freedoms from those of differing religious beliefs. Forgetting our position of exile, such a stance trades the first of our God-given freedoms for narrow self-interest and self-preservation.

Such profound disconnect was recently on vivid display at the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2016 Annual Meeting, where a pastor asked Dr. Russell Moore how a Christian can possibly support religious liberty for Muslims. “Do you actually believe that Jesus Christ would support this,” the pastor asked, “and that he would stand up and say, ‘Well, let us protect the rights of those Baal worshipers to erect temples to Baal’”?

Moore’s answer couldn’t be clearer:


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daniellionsdenRuberns (1)We have routinely pointed to Jeremiah 29 as an introductory primer for life in exile, prodding us toward faithful cultural witness and away from the typical temptations of fortification, domination, and accommodation.

As Christians continue to struggle with what it means to be in but not of the world, Jeremiah reminds us to “seek the welfare of the city,” bearing distinct witness even as we serve our captors. We are to “pray to the Lord for it,” Jeremiah writes, “because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The Biblical examples of how this actually looks are numerous, and in a new post at The Washington Institute, Thomas Kent draws our attention to one of the most prominent:

The story of Daniel teaches us that it is possible to live a faithful life even during exile in a pagan land and amidst a culture antithetical to God’s law. As if spurred on by Jeremiah 29, with competence and character, Daniel contributes with “an excellent spirit” to the prospering of Babylon. Other high officials, jealous of Daniel, “sought to find a ground of complaint against Daniel with regard to the Kingdom”, but they could not because Daniel was faithful. When thrown into the lion’s den, God delivered Daniel and protected him because he trusted in God. As Christians in the marketplace, we must approach our work in the same fashion: we must strive to be faithful and we must trust God.

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Kuyper-Ons-Program-freedom-conscience1As persecution intensifies around the world, and as the incremental fight for religious liberty only begins here in America, Christians have an obligation to better understand the role of religious liberty and how it intersects with God’s design for political institutions.

Unfortunately, as a recent video from John MacArthur demonstrates, the confusion is more widespread than I’d like to believe.

“We can’t expect religious liberty to exist as some kind of divine right, as some gift from God,” he says. “…We were never promised religious liberty. We were only promised persecution.”

MacArthur goes on to paint a confusing and convoluted picture of the Christian’s role in government, arguing that, when it comes to the erosion of religious liberty here in America, it simply “doesn’t matter” because “our political conditions have nothing to do with the advancement of the kingdom of God.” “We don’t fight for quote-unquote ‘religious liberty,’” he says. “We might talk about it. We might vote to make it happen. We don’t fight for that.” (more…)

JMM_19 1Our most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality, vol. 19, no. 1, has now been published online and print issues are in the mail.

In addition to our regular slate of articles examining the intersections between faith, freedom, markets, and morality, this issue contains a new entry in our Scholia special feature section: “Advice to a Desolate France” by Sebastian Castellio. Writing in 1562, Castellio was one of the first early modern defenders of freedom of religion on the basis of freedom of conscience, in the midst of a turbulent time of conflict between Roman Catholics and Protestants in sixteenth-century France. His insights should still be valuable today, both to scholars and others who value that same freedom.

As is our usual custom, this issue’s editorial, “Self-Interest and Moral Contexts,” is open access. In it, I examine the necessity of context for determining the morality of the choices of market actors:

The economic idea of self-interest as the driving motivator of economic (and other) behavior is as widely accepted by economists as it is criticized by others. The critics, generally, object to the assumption that “widespread and/or persistent human behavior can be explained by a generalized calculus of utility-maximizing behavior,” to quote George Stigler and Gary Becker. Is not that selfishness? And is not selfishness immoral? And do not people, at least sometimes, act morally? Furthermore, should not they be encouraged to act altruistically instead of only thinking of their own interests?

In reality, context complicates such moralisms.

The full editorial can be read and downloaded here.

Read the entire issue here.

Subscription instructions to access all of our content can be found here.

The spring session of the 2016 Acton Lecture Series closed on May 17th with an address by Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico entitled “Freedom Indivisible: Private Property as the Solid Ground for Religious Liberty,” which examined how private property provides an essential foundation for religious liberty in a free and virtuous society. We’re pleased to share the lecture with you via the video player below.