Category: Religious Liberty

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.

Zenit, the Catholic news service, published a recap of Acton Institute’s conference, “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West.” The event, held in Rome on April 29, brought expert speakers from around the world to explore the complex relationship between religious liberty and economic freedom. For more on this conference and others planned in the series titled “One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom,” please visit this page.

Zenit asked Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg what Catholic social service organizations can do in order to not compromise their Catholic identity:

Gregg underlined the importance of De Caritate Ministranda, “On the Service of Charity” – a 2012 document Benedict wrote upon the recommendation of Cardinal Robert Sarah who heads the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s main oversight agency for charitable activities.

The document, Gregg said, made it “very clear that if Catholic charitable organizations accept funding, whether it be private or government, and it starts to cause the organization to compromise its identity, mission, ability to employ who it wants to employ, its ability to do what it wants to do in accordance with Church teaching, then bishops have the responsibility to stop Catholic organizations from accepting [these funds].”

“It’s well worth reading,” Gregg said, as “it is forcing Catholic organizations to ask themselves some very hard questions, such as: ‘Who is our master?'”

Read more of “International Experts Examine Religious and Economic Freedoms” On Zenit.

On Tuesday, April 29, the Acton Institute hosted the conference Faith, State, and the Economy: perspectives from East and West at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. This conference was the first in a five-part international conference series – One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom.

The one-night event, moderated by Acton’s Rev. Robert A. Sirico, featured four prominent speakers who offered deeper insight into the question of the relationship between religious freedom and economic liberty. The speakers represented a diversity of global perspectives on the relationship between religious and economic freedom.2014-04-29_0226_REV

Rev. Prof. Martin Rhonheimer of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, located in Rome, presented on Christianity and the Limits of State Power. Rhonheimer discussed the important and inherent link between limited government and a flourishing free market, the historical roots of the free market in Christian civilization, and the danger of Christians who fail to understand the link between Christianity and a free market economy.

Following Rhonheimer, Archbishop Maroun Elias Lahham of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Jordan offered his perspectives on Christians and the Challenge of Freedom in the Middle East. Samuel Gregg, the Director of Research at the Acton Institute, followed with an engaging analysis on contemporary issues in his presentation Religious Liberty and Economic Freedom: Intellectual and Practical Paradoxes. Gregg revealed some of the ways that greater economic freedom may lead to greater religious liberty, using the Chinese situation as a case study.

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The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and LeftI recently read Yuval Levin’s new book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, and found it remarkably rich and rewarding. Though the entire book is worthy of discussion, his chapter on choice vs. obligation is particularly helpful in illuminating one of the more elusive tensions in our social thought and action.

In the chapter, Levin provides a helpful summary of how the two men differed in their beliefs about social obligation and individual rights. How ought we to relate to our fellow man? What preexisting obligations do we have to our neighbors? How do those obligations come to be? What role ought the State to play in guiding or intervening in the social order?

For Paine, Levin explains, society is a “means to enable choice, or the freedom to shape our own future uncoerced—a means to the radical liberation of the individual from the burdens of his circumstances, his given nature, and his fellow man.” “The right to choose,” Levin paraphrases, is “the end toward which we aim in politics.” Or as Paine himself puts it: “The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me, and those who violate the duty justly incur a forfeiture of the right.” We choose our obligations, and y’all best let Paine choose his.

For Burke, however, this lopsided emphasis on choice amounts to “a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition,” as Levin summarizes: “The most essential human obligations and relations—especially those involving the family but also many of those involving community, the nation, and one’s religious faith—are not chosen and could never really be chosen, and political and social life begins from these, not from an act of will.” We may think we can escape or subvert certain obligations, but for Burke,  they are “nevertheless binding.” Therefore, in structuring our society and acting therein, we ought not pretend otherwise. (more…)

jeopardy cartoonWe Americans are rather ignorant about religion. We claim to be a religious folk, but when it comes to hard-core knowledge, we don’t do well. The Pew Forum put together a baseline quiz of religious knowledge – a mere 32 multiple choice questions – and on average, Americans only got about half of them right. A few sample questions (without the multiple choice answers):

  • Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?
  • What is Ramadan?
  • In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
  • What was Joseph Smith’s religion?

Who scored best? Atheists and agnostics. Yeah. (more…)

Christian Church in Middle EastThis past weekend, Christians around the world commemorated the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to ponder how Easter was celebrated in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity and the region in which these very events unfolded. There is one factor, however, that may have made the liturgical festivities less expansive and well-attended than one might imagine: the minimal number of Christians in the region. In the Middle East, the number of Christians has dwindled to less than 10 percent of the region’s population. This diminishing number is not, however, simply a result of natural immigration patterns or conversions to other faiths; it also reflects the determination of intolerant and extremist governments and associated groups to drive them out.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Middle East War on Christians,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, explains that in Iraq alone over the past 10 years, “nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes.” Prosor then adds:
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