Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico had a busy media day yesterday in the wake of the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius case. using the audio player below, you can listen to an interview with Rev. Sirico on The Michael Berry Show on Houston’s 740 AM KTRH radio where the impact of the decision is examined. Additionally, beyond the jump I’ve embedded Rev. Sirico’s appearance on Bloomberg TV’s Street Smart with Trish Regan, where he participated on a panel discussing the decision.
There 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:
Reporting 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.
Istituto Acton in Rome has released the following video statement from Kishore Jayabalan on the persecution of Christians worldwide and threats to religious freedom, previewing the ‘Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West’ conference happening next week.
The United States is often perceived as a land of religious freedom and pluralism. Has such a space allowed for the growth of a new generation of young Muslim leaders, activists, and artists? According to a recent article in TIME magazine, the rising prosperity and integration of Muslims in America is allowing for new Muslim leaders to emerge in the American public sphere.
Because the United States is faring far better with Muslim cultural and societal integration than Europe, a new platform is opening up for redefining Islam in the West. While the American Muslim community is also navigating their place in a shifting American demographic and religious landscape, intra-Islamic conversations continue over the identity and practice of American Islam. With the advent and growth of Islamic religious scholarship in the United States, the country is also becoming home to continuing creative conversations about Islamic identity and practice.
There is no doubt that an element of economic freedom has allowed the Muslim community in the United States to expand, flourish, and succeed. The link between religious and economic freedom will be considered more fully at an upcoming Acton conference in Rome, “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives From East and West.”
The conference will take place on April 29 in Rome and is the first in a series called “One and Indivisible? The Relationship between Religious and Economic Freedom.” For more information visit the conference series webpage.
Additionally, please consider registering for Acton University 2014 for lectures on Islam by Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for the Turkish Daily News.
A prominent Catholic bishop recently told development experts at a UN meeting that the family is the time-tested “building block” of a charitable and economically prospering society. He said healthy, stable families allow “intergenerational solidarity” to take root in cultures, where the young gratuitously care for their elders, and vice versa, out of a fundamental Christian moral duty and capacity for human love.
Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt from Bolghatti, India, made these remarks as the Holy See’s Permanent Observer, when seeking greater support for pro-family institutions and policies in a March 31 address he delivered in New York at the United Nations.
Chullikatt said that encouraging mutual family care allows private welfare to flourish, thus lifting a heavy and unsustainable fiscal burden off states, many of which are in constant deficit, riddled with corrupt welfare officers, and face unprecedented levels of sovereign debt that threaten to bankrupt national treasuries. (more…)
Such an attitude, worldview, and moral orientation isn’t all that appealing to someone such as myself, particularly when paired with the lovely parental advisory sign located at the counter. Yet I feel no inclination to enlist the muscle of the magistrates to manipulate them toward watering things down. I can consume their chicken blindly (not advisable), take my business elsewhere, or start a delicious chicken shop of my own.
Respond to the market signal with your own market signal. Heed your conscience. Shape and create the culture. Bear witness to the Truth. Etc.
Yet for those like Kirsten Powers, these folks should simply subdue their strident beliefs and get back to plain-old materialistic business. “Most people just want to eat a chicken sandwich,” she might say. “It’s not clear why some chicken shops are so confused about their role here.” Or, as Andy Stanley might put it, “leave gay rights out of it.”
I bring this up simply to re-affirm a point I’ve already made: businesses are culture-making enterprises, whether they or we like it or not. When we detest or disagree with particular cultural outputs of particular cultural enterprises, we should respond with healthy Christianly output, not systemic strong-arming and stifling.
This means maximizing the freedom to shape culture and maximizing it for all. That includes religious freedom for the baker, the florist, and the photographer, just as it includes the ramblings of the supposedly a-religious chicken shop.
Wayne Grudem believes that by engaging in work and business we glorify God because we are emulating God's creative work.
If the American Founding got one thing right more than anything, it was its commitment to a broad and liberal religious liberty. In 1790, President George Washington told a Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy; a policy worthy of imitation.”
Currently, the country faces a number of threats to religious liberty and America seems to be squandering its profound moral authority it can offer to a world starving for its example. On the evening of February 4, I’ll address many of these challenges at Acton on Tap in Grand Rapids. The title for the event is “The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty.” If you are local to the area please join us and be prepared to share your own thoughts and insights.
The weakening of religion of course inevitably leads to more centralization and government. Thus, the American Framers clearly saw the need for a strong religious and moral fabric to guarantee liberty. “The people, who are the source of all lawful authority, are inherently independent of all but the moral law,” declared Thomas Jefferson. The framers were concerned that freedom would break down and become less about restraint and more about license.
It is undeniable that one of the gravest problems we face in this country is a misunderstood and disordered view of liberty that permeates society. Lord Acton put it well when he said liberty is “not the power of doing what we like but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
While America has dramatically changed over the centuries, I believe the founding period offers a lot of important lessons today. Religious persecution in America was an ongoing problem at that time, and would remain to degrees, but there was a deep desire to avoid the kind of devastation that fomented religious wars in Europe. I’ll address that more at Acton on Tap. One thing is certain, with all the challenges America now faces in regards to surviving as the home for a free people, it’s ludicrous to believe that is possible without a vibrant morality and a championing of religious liberty.
Yesterday, there was a panel discussion on religious liberty sponsored by the Center for American Progress in Washington. Joel Gehrke has an excellent summation of the event in the Washington Examiner that highlighted some remarks by C. Welton Gaddy.
Later in the talk, Gaddy agreed with an interlocutor who asked if liberals “need to start educating, and calling out, Christians for trying to exercise ‘Christian privilege.’”
“As a Christian” — a big part of Gaddy’s rhetorical power seemed to derive from the fact that, as a Christian and a former Southern Baptist, he could ratify all of the CAP audience’s views of the people with whom they disagreed — “I think Christians ought to start calling each other out, because I think you’re exactly right,” he said.
This kind of nonsensical language echoes a kind of NewSpeak highlighted by George Orwell in his novel 1984. It is a controlled language created by the state and their apparatchiks as a tool to silence freedom of thought and conscience. We’ve seen it too by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the Obama administration, who have subtly shifted away from the term religious freedom, preferring to call it “freedom of worship” instead. The shift highlights the goal by many of the secular left to confine or ghettoize religious freedom to the four walls of churches. You can believe what you want and practice whatever you want as long as it is contained to the four walls of the church.
Last week, an exciting new organization called the Transatlantic Christian Council (TCC) hosted its inaugural conference. The theme of the conference was “Sustaining Freedom”, which aligns well with the Council’s mission “to develop a transatlantic public policy network of European and North American Christians and conservatives in order to promote the civic good, as understood within the Judeo-Christian tradition on which our societies are largely based.”
What I find most exciting about this Council, for which I commend Todd Huizinga and Henk Jan van Schothorst on their vision and initiative in founding, is this: like the Acton Institute, the TCC is not exclusively devoted to just one aspect of life, but rather aims to provide a forum for conversation on a broad range of life’s many important and fundamental human questions.
The starting point for these conversations is with a basic concept of human dignity. This concept is rooted in an openness to the idea of man as an image of God — endowed with the capacities for willfulness and reason, a creature and a sub-creator. And it is this understanding of the human person that serves as a point of departure for working through all sorts of interesting questions of politics, economics, liberty, government, religion, and family.
When I mentioned to a friend that I would be travelling to Belgium for this conference, he said to me: “Be sure they don’t euthanize you and harvest your organs!”
“Well,” I thought to myself, “that’s certainly a novel way to wish someone a good trip.”