Category: Religious Liberty

On The Daily Caller, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg looks at the connection between economic liberty and religious freedom which, he observes, “has not been so obvious; or at least it wasn’t until cases such as Hobby Lobby’s started making their way through the American court system.” Also not so obvious is how the ever expanding welfare state in many countries — and the growing dependence of some religious charities on state funding — have had a negative impact on the institutional liberty of religious organization. Gregg:

As funding from government contracts begin to make up large portions of a given religious charity’s financial resources, economic reliance on such assistance can easily incentivize such organizations into avoiding any significant conflicts with government officials: including those occasions when such conflict is inevitable if the religious organization is to remain faithful to its core beliefs. It is not unknown for religious organizations receiving or seeking state contracts to downplay their religious identity precisely so they can maximize their chances of receiving such a contract. As George Weigel points it, such organizations can begin to transform themselves into “mere vehicles for the delivery of state-defined and state-approved ‘benefit’.”

It is also true that acceptance of government funding can encourage many people working in religious organizations to view government as their main authority. This should not be surprising. If 80 percent of a religious charity’s income is coming from state financial assistance and government contracts for which religious organizations compete, it would seem that the government effectively controls that religious charity’s purse-strings. And that means the state is well and truly in charge.

Read all of “Economic Freedom And Religious Freedom Are Mutually Reinforcing” by Samuel Gregg on The Daily Caller.

Today at Public Discourse, I examine recent data that strongly suggests that “freedom from government restrictions on religion often paves the way for economic liberty.”

I write,

Thus, we can say that if someone wishes to promote economic liberty worldwide, one should not neglect to encourage religious liberty at the same time. This requires facing the challenges of any given country’s religious context and history, while underscoring the importance of interreligious studies for international economic development efforts.

These findings also ought to affirm a tempered realism among international development organizations and advocates who hope to encourage free economies in countries with high government restrictions on religion. Such liberalization is not impossible, as Singapore, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain demonstrate. However, the strong correlation clearly favors those countries with moderate to low government restrictions on religion and preferably with moderate to low social hostility toward religion as well. A country that values and protects religious liberty offers fertile soil for economic liberty to flourish.

Exploring the connection between religious and economic liberty is one of the central focuses of the Acton Institute. For more on this subject, check out Michael Novak’s recent Acton Commentary, “Economic Tyranny Trumps Religious Liberty,” and be sure to look into our Religious and Economic Freedom Conference Series (here).

You can read the rest of my article, “Connecting Religious and Economic Liberty” at Public Discourse here.

parsonage (1)A federal court of appeals has rejected an atheist group’s lawsuit seeking to strike down a 60-year-old tax provision protecting ministers, notes the Becket Fund. The ruling allows ministers of all faiths to continue receiving housing allowances. “This is a great victory for separation of church and state,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund of Religious Liberty. “When a group of atheists tries to cajole the IRS into raising taxes on churches, it’s bound to raise some eyebrows. The court was right to send them packing.”

Aside from the question of constitutionality, the clergy exemption raises a question that many people — whether religious or not — are likely to be wondering: Why exactly do ministers receive a tax exemption for their housing allowance?

To answer the question we must first consider how taxation of church property, including clergy housing, has historically been considered.
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Blog author: jcarter
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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The most persecuted and victimized people in the world today are Christians in the Middle East. Middle East expert Raymond Ibrahim lays out the grim details, and wonders why this human rights tragedy of our time is largely ignored by the Western media.

Ramatu Usman, whose 6-year-old son is still missing after a Boko Haram attack

Ramatu Usman, whose 6-year-old son is still missing after a Boko Haram attack

Those schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram? Most are still missing. A boys’ school was bombed. Boko Haram says it wasn’t them, but the people don’t believe them.

In Nigeria, for many people, life is about staying one step ahead of Boko Haram, trying to safeguard their children from getting swept up in the claws of this evil entity.

In neighboring Adamawa state, almost 9,500 displaced people now live in a giant camp — one of five for displaced people in the area. They’ve found refuge in what was a youth center outside Yola, the state capital. The buildings are crammed full of residents. Newcomers are being housed in large green tents.

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Throughout Western developed nations, there is dawning recognition that robust protections for religious liberty can no longer be taken for granted. Less understood are the ways in which infringements of other political, civil and commercial forms of freedom can subtly undermine religious liberty. Businesses and other institutions of civil society now need to consider how the restrictions of religious freedom by governments throughout the Western world is likely to affect them.

Today the Acton Institute, in conjunction with the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, will hold a conference from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Washington titled, “The Relationship between Religious & Economic Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government.” The event brings together leading clergy and scholars—theologians, philosophers, economists—to discuss this increasingly important issue, and the manner in which is affecting institutions ranging from business to church organizations.

If you’re in Grand Rapids, you can watch the event live in the Acton auditorium at 98 E. Fulton St. Details here. Or watch the live web stream beginning at noon on the video player after the page break. (more…)

no-shariaOn Tuesday, voters in Alabama passed a ballot measure that, among other things, forbids courts, arbitrators, and administrative agencies from applying or “enforcing a foreign law if doing so would violate any state law or a right guaranteed by the Constitution of this state or of the United States.” Such measures (other states have passed similar laws) are often dubbed “anti-Sharia” measures since preventing the encroachment of Sharia is usually their primary objective.

Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam that deals with topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual relations, hygiene, diet, and prayer. The two primary sources of Sharia law are the Quran and the example set by the founder of Islam, Muhammad. The introduction of Sharia across the globe is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements.

Opposing Sharia law may appear to be commonsensical measure. But such laws are unnecessary since state law and the Constitution already trump foreign law. They also can’t be written to oppose only Sharia (that would be religious discrimination) so they are written in a broad way that has unintended consequences.

Indeed, there is a compelling reason why Christians should be leery of joining in supporting anti-Sharia legislation: By helping to push the idea that religious beliefs should be kept private, anti-Sharia laws are a threat to all of our religious liberties. As the Catholic legal scholar Robert K. Vischer explained last year in First Things:
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anniseparkerEarlier this month the city of Houston sent out a subpoena to five area pastors demanding to see:

All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Houston mayor Annise Parker even appeared to support the measure, saying on her Twitter account, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game. Were instructions given on filling out anti-HERO petition?”

But after a national outcry — that included hundreds of Bibles being sent to her office — the mayor has decided to change her position. Today she announced she’s withdrawing the subpoenas:
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abortion-is-not-healthcareRemember the Hobby Lobby case when the Supreme Court ruled that an employer could not be required to provide employees with certain types of abortifacients if it was against their religious beliefs? Remember also how some people complained that such exemptions in health care plans should be allowed only for churches and religious ministries?

Apparently, the state government of California thinks that both of those claims are absurd. They think that every employer — including churches — should be required to pay for elective surgical abortions.

In August, California’s Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) began sending notices to health insurance companies notifying them that they were required to cover the cost of abortions. The only exception allowed was that a health plan is not required to pay for abortions of a “viable fetus,” i.e., if there is a “reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” There were no exemptions for organizations that might have a religious belief that forbids them from even indirectly paying for abortions. Even a pro-life group dedicated to opposing abortion would be required to cover abortions in the healthcare policies provided to their employees.
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R&LSpring2014coverIn a 2013 commencement address at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Makoto Fujimura told the graduating class, “We are to rise above the darkened realities, the confounding problems of our time.” A tall order for any age, but one God has decisively overcome in Jesus Christ. Fujimura uses his talent to connect beauty with the truth of the Gospel in a culture that has largely forgotten its religious tradition and history. He makes those things fresh and visible again. With works like “Walking on Water,” and the “Four Holy Gospels,” Fujimura is illuminating God’s Word to a culture that is mostly inward looking and mired in the self. Our interview with Fujimura leads this new issue of Religion & Liberty.

Also in this issue, I contribute a column on the dangers of state religion. Secularism, now thriving as the state religion, has the potential to unleash a new kind of religious persecution in America. (more…)