Category: Religious Liberty

supreme-courtCan prison bureaucrats arbitrarily ban peaceful religious practices?

Whether they should, they certainly have done so. As The Becket Fund points out, many prisons have barred Jewish inmates from wearing yarmulkes, denied Catholics access to the sacraments of communion and confession, and shut down Evangelical Bible studies. Prisons have frequently even banned religious objects, such as rosaries, prayer shawls, and yarmulkes.

In response to these and many other displays of religious suppression, an overwhelmingly bipartisan Congress enacted a landmark civil rights statute, which was signed by President Clinton in 2000: the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
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Freedom-of-ReligionThomas Jefferson wanted what he considered to be his three greatest achievements to be listed on his tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

Today we celebrate the 229th anniversary of one of those great creations: the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.

Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” One way to honor the day is to reflect on these ten quotes about religious liberty that were expressed by some of our country’s greatest leaders:

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Rioting in Caracas, 2014

Rioting in Caracas, 2014

In a country rife with economic and social ills, Venezuela’s Catholic bishops issued a strongly-worded critique of the government during their annual conference this week. According to The Wall Street Journal:

The church has long preached reconciliation in the bitterly polarized nation. But as the oil price plummets and economic disaster threatens, the bishops clearly are losing patience. Monday’s statement recalled the 43 deaths during antigovernment protests in early 2014, the “excessive use of force” by the state against protestors, and “the detention of thousands . . . many of them still in prison today” or awaiting trial.

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france-israelEven before the Paris attacks, there were worries over a sharp rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and mainland Europe in 2014, says Caroline Wyatt of the BBC. In the past few years thousands of French Jews have fled the country to the one place they feel safe: Israel.

“The French Jewish community is gripped by a very deep sense of insecurity and that sense is often traced back to the attack in Tolouse in 2012,” says Avi Mayer, a spokesperson for the Jewish Agency for Israel. “But there’s also a lower-level sense that it’s simply impossible to be openly Jewish in the streets of France, and that’s something that’s manifested itself with Jewish discomfort with wearing yarmulkes in the streets or necklaces with Jewish stars.”

The resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe is appalling and tragic. What it shouldn’t be, however, is unexpected. Like it’s Islamist extremist counterpart, the roots of this hatred are often economic.

Europe has always been susceptible to the siren’s call of socialism, and as economist Tyler Cowen pointed out nearly 20 years ago, there is a direct link between statism and the persecution of minorities:
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persecuted church2014 was a terrible year for persecution of Christians. In Syria, North Korea and Somalia, Christians are routinely imprisoned and killed. In Iraq, 2014 saw the passage of a law requiring Christians to convert or pay an exorbitant tax. The other choice for Iraqi Christians is to flee.

Open Doors has been tracking persecution of Christians around the world for 60 years. They have just released their latest report, and it makes a grim prediction: 2015 may very well be the worst year for Christians since Open Doors began its work. David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, explains:

Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.

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Silvania_Sandi_Final_Vidnette_Remove_L_Side (1 of 1)_With_Text

The text reads: “Silvania holds a picture of her sister Sandi who was a biology major at university when she was killed by a roadside bomb. Exiled in Amman and barred from school, Silvania dreams of becoming a dentist.”

Jeff Gardner was frustrated. As a photo-journalist working primarily in the Middle East, he is witness to the violence towards Christians on a daily basis, but the rest of the world seems unconcerned. Gardner realized it wasn’t that people didn’t care, but that they just didn’t know. It truly was an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. Gardner set out to fix this.

In the fall of 2013, Gardner launched the Picture Christians Project. He hopes to a put a face on a particular group of persecuted Catholic Christians — the Assyrians, most of whom are members of the Syriac Catholic Church.

For more than a decade, these Christians have been driven out of their homeland in Iraq by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group by the hundreds of thousands.

Gardner told the National Catholic Register that he visited Jordan last year, and was struck by the situation for Christians in exile. (more…)

satanist-holidayTopping the list of hot trends in 2014 were “Victimism” (i.e., posturing as a victim for political advantage and media attention) and “Annoy-Thy-Neighbor” activism. There were many groups that combined both to great effect, so it would be difficult to choose the best representative case. But the lamest example of the year is much easier to find: it’s by Jex Blackmore and the Michigan Satanists.

Unfortunately, that’s not the name of a band trying to hard to be clever. Blackmore is a real person (I think, but who knows nowadays) and a member of the Detroit chapter of the Satanic Temple. As is typical of most modern-day “Satanists” they don’t really believe in Satan at all. On their Facebook page they explain, “As Satanists, we believe that elevating revolt against arbitrary authority and defiance in the face of oppression is the highest of callings. We stand in solidarity with groups who are subject to institutionalized forms of discrimination and state oppression.”

In other words, they’re the typical lefty Social Justice Warriors—only more clueless and annoying. Secular Satanists think they’re being edgy and ironic and sticking it to Christians, while everyone else considers them as cringe-worthy in their lack of self-awareness. Seriously, is there anything sadder than a secular Satanist? They’re so pathetic you want to give them a hug and offer them some hot cocoa. You want to tell them that if they’d just stop drawing pentagrams and scribbling “I  Richard Dawkins” in their notebooks and go out into the Real World they too could make friends .

Instead, they try to hide their loneliness by doing stuff like erecting a “Satanic holiday display” at the Michigan statehouse:
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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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