Category: Religious Liberty

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…)

economicreligionSam 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.

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The Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, China before demolitionb

The Sanjiang church in Wenzhou, China before demolition

Wenzhou, China, is known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its large Christian population, a population that had, until recently, enjoyed the Sanjiang Church for worship. A massive structure, Sanjiang Church took over 12 years to build and was a site of pilgrimage for Chinese Catholics.

Last week, however, the Chinese government (which had previously lauded the structure’s architecture) deemed the structure “illegal” and destroyed the entire building,  bricking off massive statues to hide them from sight. The government cited bribery on the part of at least 5 officials as the reason for the church’s demolition.

The authorities’ behaviour is reminiscent of the smashing of church property during the Cultural Revolution,” another member of the city’s Catholic community told UCA News’s Chinese-language service.

The removals, news of which emerged Wednesday, took place on Saturday, 48 hours, before government demolition teams razed a Protestant church in the same city.

Wenzhou’s Sanjiang church became a symbol of resistance to the Communist Party’s draconian religious policies in early April. (more…)

Anti-Abortion Activists Demonstrate Outside The Supreme CourtWhat was the Greece vs. Galloway case about?

The short answer: The constitutionality of saying religiously specific prayers (e.g., praying in Jesus name) at government meetings and functions.

The (slightly) longer answer: In the town of Greece, located in upstate New York, the Town Board sessions were opened by a prayer from local clergy, mostly leaders of Christian congregations although in a few instances members of other faith traditions offered the invocation (a Jewish man, a Baha’i leader, and a Wiccan). The Second Circuit Court ruled the prayers were unconstitutional since they aligned the town government officially with a particular faith — Christianity. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

What was the Supreme Court’s ruling?

In a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines with Justice Kennedy joining the majority, the court ruled that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court concludes:
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RussellDMoore-lowRussell Moore talks and writes about a lot of topics as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He even writes about the legendary Johnny Cash. “Cash always seems to connect,” says Moore. When it comes to leading and speaking about religious liberty, the same can be said for Moore. There are few as engaging and persuasive as Moore in the public square today. He’s interviewed on this important topic in the issue of Religion & Liberty . In the editor’s notes, I speak a little bit on the impact of Moore’s character and integrity.

“Shades of Solzhenitsyn” is the feature essay and Kevin Duffy offers a critical analysis on some of the similarities between Pope Francis and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A world starved by a lack of moral clarity is in desperate need of the best thoughts from both men.

Dylan Pahman reviews Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. I review Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer. We all are or should be aware that our leadership in Washington is a disaster and a cesspool of corruption. But it’s even worse than that according to Schweizer. The system is best understood by comparing it to organized crime. Schweizer was interviewed in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion & Liberty.

“Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism”
by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew P. Morriss is an excerpt from Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism . That work is invaluable for a more responsible environmental framework with God at the center of creation.

It may be surprising, especially to many of our Reformed readers, that Richard Baxter has never been profiled for “In the Liberal Tradition.” Max Weber called Baxter the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and Baxter’s thought and prolific writings are still widely utilized and studied. We’d all be better off if we took the time to read How to Do Good to Many.

If you’d like to read our executive director’s thoughts on Acton’s battle with the city over our property tax exemption, there is no better statement on this issue than Kris Mauren’s frequently asked questions segment.