Category: Religious Liberty

Writing for Canada’s National Post, Acton University lecturer Fr. Raymond de Souza calls our attention to the 25th anniversary this year of the defeat of communism and observes that “there are new questions about the unity of liberties.” In the 1980s, he writes, “when in the Gdansk shipyard the workers began to rattle the cage of communism, they demanded economic liberties (free trade unions), personal liberties (speech, the press), political liberties (democracy), legal liberties (against the police state) and religious liberty (the strikers insisted upon public worship in the shipyard itself).”

In continuity with older revolutions and even older political philosophy, he adds, “the liberties demanded were thought to be all of a piece. Liberty was not divisible, it was thought and often said. Today that question is is up for debate.”

For his National Post column, Fr. de Souza interviewed theologian Michael Novak — also lecturing at Acton U. in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week.

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Church vs. StateIf you thought the Obama Administration had taken its final swipe at religious liberty with the HHS mandate, think again. At Catholic Vote, John Shimek tells us that there is a new attack on American’s religious liberty, and it won’t affect just Catholics.

According to Shimek, the social media website Buzzfeed announced that the White House is drafting an executive order that will bar federal contractors from discriminating against anyone based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

President Obama is moving on the issue a week after talking about the important role that administrative action can play in advancing LGBT rights.

At a question-and-answer session at the White House last week, Obama spoke about how transgender students can now “assert their rights” following recent Education Department action laying out an expanded view of sex discrimination protections under Title IX.

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Rise-and-DeclineThere is an informative podcast on a new book titled The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom over at the Library of Law and Liberty. The author, Steven D. Smith, is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego and Co-Executive Director of the USD Institute for Law and Religion. Smith challenges the popular notion that American religious freedom was merely an enlightenment revolt from European Christendom and was meant to uplift a secular interpretation of the First Amendment.

Smith will be a guest writer over at their blog for the month of July. Below is an excerpt from the description of the podcast:

Our conversation begins with the history of the ratification of the First Amendment. What do we make of the fact that the religion clauses were scarcely debated in the Congress that approved them? Smith argues that this should dissolve any notion that a grand constitutional moment occurred and that gave us the religion clauses as “articles of faith” in secularism. We discuss Smith’s view that the lack of debate owed to an existing consensus that wanted to prevent the national government establishing a national church while the states would continue their established churches, in some cases, and other lesser forms of religious influence in their laws. Contrary, Smith argues, to a national standard of religious freedom or secularism, the constitutional course was “contestation” or an ongoing conflict between religious and secular claims. Thus the Court’s separationist jurisprudence of mid twentieth century, Smith discusses, was a departure from original understanding of religious liberty and its practice for most of our history.

Smith also discusses and disputes the view that American religious freedom is an outcome of the Enlightenment. His controversial claim is that it is a recovery of a key concept of Western civilization, freedom of the church, and, its later Protestant development, freedom of the “inner church” or conscience. Recovery is here stressed because it was modern political development, Smith notes, that had subordinated the church to the state and to be stripped of institutional freedom.

Listen to the podcast:

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Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim is living under a death sentence. Shackled in a Sudanese prison, with her toddler son and newborn daughter with her, Ibrahim will likely be executed. Her crime: being Christian. A Sudanese high court delivered the sentence when Ibrahim refused to denounce her Christian faith.

This may seem like an aberration, an isolated throwback to more barbaric times, but according to Pew Research, one-quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy and apostasy laws.

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of 2011 nearly half of the countries and territories in the world (47%) have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general). Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

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World-religions-iStock_000018561922SmallReporting that hostility and violence surrounding religion is at a 6-year high, Pew Research says this is a global issue. The Americas are the only region not seeing a noted increase.

A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring.There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the “high” category for the first time.

The study notes that about one-third of the nations in the world have high or very high restrictions on religion and religious activities, with Europe seeing the biggest increase in these types of restrictions. Pew Research uses two indices to quantify religious hostility:  the Government Restrictions Index  (GRI) and the Social Hostilities Index (SHI). The first takes into account a government’s laws and policies regarding religion and religious practices. The Social Hostilities Index

measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society. This includes religion-related armed conflict or terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons or other religion-related intimidation or abuse. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.

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Blog author: dpahman
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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Today at Ethika Politika, I examine the longstanding claim of the Roman Catholic Church that the universal character of the common good in our present era necessitates a world political authority. The problem, I argue, lies in the tradition’s too closely identifying the good of political communities with the common good.

The recently canonized Pope John XXIII, for example, states that “[p]ublic authority” is “the means of promoting the common good in civil society” (Pacem in Terris, 136, emphasis mine). And Pope Benedict XVI continued the call made by John XXIII for a “world political authority” in Caritas in Veritate, specifically recommending that the U.N. be “vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice, and respect for rights” (57, emphasis mine). The problem with the U.N., to the popes, is that it is not powerful enough.

In response, I write,

I would worry about a U.N. or any other global political authority endowed with such great power and means. If nation states have failed to ensure the global common good, as the pope admits, why should we expect a global government to be free from error in this regard? The only difference would be that the mistakes of such politicians would necessarily have global consequences. I like my U.N. nearly ineffective and mostly powerless, thank you very much. If anything, to ensure subsidiarity, the larger the political authority, the less power and means it should have. (more…)

business religionThe Religious Freedom & Business Foundation has issued a global study that links religious freedom to economic growth. Researchers say that religious freedom has been a previously “unrecognized asset to economic recovery and growth,” and that religion contributes heavily to peace and stability, both of which are necessary to economic stability.

Mark A. Kellner breaks down the study’s findings:

According to the RFBF [Religious Freedom & Business Foundation], the study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and found religious freedom correlated with lower corruption. Moreover, “when religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries.”

The authors analyzed 2011 GDP data and compared with data on religious restrictions, the level of economic and business freedom in a given country, and “measures of government regulation, taxes, labor issues, demographics and economic circumstances.”

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The role of economic liberty in contributing to human flourishing and the common good remains deeply underappreciated, says Samuel Gregg, even by those who are dedicated to religious liberty:

The relationship between economic and religious liberty can, however, work the other way: subtle corrosion of economic freedom can undermine religious liberty. A good example is the modern welfare state. Today, government spending, according to the OECD, consumes a minimum of 40 percent of annual GDP in virtually all Western European nations. The vast majority of this expenditure is on welfare programs.

The modern welfare state is predicated upon the willingness of governments to significantly limit economic freedom. You cannot have large welfare states without extensive regulation, higher taxes, and some redistribution of wealth. All such choices corrode, to some extent, economic freedom. But what does the welfare state have to do with religious liberty? Put simply, there is much to indicate that welfare states have had a negative impact on the Church’s institutional liberty.

Read more . . .

firstamendmenteThe Supreme Court recently decided (in Greece v. Galloway) that the New York town of Greece had the right to open its town board meetings with prayer, and that this did not violate the rights of anyone, nor did it violate the Constitutional mandate that our government cannot establish a religion. The town, the Court found, did not discriminate against any faith, and there was no coercion to pray.

We know that the Founding Fathers were not all Christians. However, they all wished to see a nation where religious faith was respected and accommodated. The president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, Alan Sears, writes:

Religious coercion was a great concern to the Founders, and rightly so. But their view of coercion was true coercion, in which people were ordered to act (or refrain from acting) in violation of their conscience. For the Founders, coercion looked more like the current health care dispute in which the government is compelling family businesses to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs regardless of those families’ deeply held religious beliefs. That’s coercion. As to how the Founders viewed legislative prayer, there can be no question; they considered it a desired accommodation of religion, and not coercion.

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Removal of cross from church in China's Zhejiang province

Removal of cross from church in China’s Zhejiang province

Bob Fu, a former pastor from China and founder of ChinaAid, discusses the increasing persecution of religion, especially Christianity, in China. At FaithStreet, Fu says that both unofficial “house churches” and denominational churches struggle to exist.

From our own ChinaAid fieldwork and contacts in China, we know that the USCIRF’s [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom]conclusion is absolutely warranted. In fact, in ChinaAid’s own annual report for 2013, we have statistical documentation of worsening persecution persisting over the previous eight years. And in recent years, the target of that persecution has increasingly included the state-sanctioned “Three-Self Patriotic” churches, in addition to unofficial “house churches” that have all along borne the brunt of the atheist regime’s policies to oppress religion.

Fu refers to a leaked government document that warns Chinese officials about too much growth of religion and far too many new churches being built. The document also warns of “the political issues behind the Cross.” Fu says that persecution of Christians is nothing new, of course, especially in China, and it has led to more growth of the faith. It is predicted that, by 2030, China will have the largest Christian population in the world, despite the efforts of the government to rid the nation of religious faith. (more…)