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.”
Until 2012, no federal law or regulation required employers to cover contraception or abortifacients in their company health plans. But last month a New York Times Times editorial claimed that “the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.”
What changed over the course of a year that now makes it a “war on contraceptives” to oppose adding such coverage? As Ramesh Ponnuru explains, it’s not really about contraceptives but an attack on religion:
If 2011 was marked by a widespread crisis of employers’ imposing their views on contraception on employees, nobody talked about it.
What’s actually new here is the Obama administration’s 2012 regulation requiring almost all employers to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that may cause abortion. It issued that regulation under authority given in the Obamacare legislation.
The regulation runs afoul of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a Clinton-era law. That act says that the government may impose a substantial burden on the exercise of religious belief only if it’s the least restrictive way to advance a compelling governmental interest. The act further says that no later law should be read to trump this protection unless it explicitly says it’s doing that. The Affordable Care Act has no such language.
Is a marginal increase in access to contraception a compelling interest, and is levying steep fines on employers who refuse to provide it for religious reasons the least burdensome way to further it? It seems doubtful.
In an interview with Christianity Today, social critic Os Guinness explains why religious liberty it necessary for societal flourishing:
Americans employ the term “religious freedom,” while Europeans prefer the roughly synonymous term “freedom of religion and belief.” In the book, you suggest something deeper and broader with the term “soul freedom.” What is “soul freedom”?
“Soul Liberty” was Roger Williams’s magnificent term for religious freedom. It stands over against those who confuse religious freedom with mere toleration, or shrink it to mean only the freedom to worship. It challenges those who view it simply as “freedom for the religious,” or think that when religion is dismissed, religious freedom can be ignored. As Article 1 of the Global Charter of Conscience declares, religious freedom is “the right to adopt, hold, freely exercise, share, or change one’s beliefs subject solely to the dictates of conscience and independent of all outside, especially governmental control.” Seen this way, freedom of religion and belief (which covers secularist worldviews too) is essential because it involves nothing less that our freedom to be human.
You call “soul freedom” the “golden key” to building a free, just, and equitable public square. How so?
Religious freedom is a foundational human right that should be guaranteed and protected simply for its own sake. But over and above that, numerous studies show that when religious freedom is respected, there are many social and political benefits, such as civility in public life, harmony in society as a whole, and vitality in the entrepreneurial sectors of civil society. Violations of religious freedom, such as the recent health care mandates hitting Catholic hospitals and other religious employers, are therefore not only wrong, but blind. As such requirements spread, they will cramp, if not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. One day our brave new government officials will go out in the morning and find there is no golden egg—and therefore they must spend more, and grow government even larger, to cover the gap created by the diminishing of the faith-based organizations.
There is little doubt that America is moving further away from the kind of broad and liberal religious freedom that was championed during the founding period. In terms of intellectual thought, that period was certainly the high water mark for religious liberty around the globe. As Americans celebrate their freedoms and Independence next week, I seek to answer the question in this week’s commentary about America’s ability to remain the land of religious liberty.
Sadly, the outlook is rather bleak, and America will need a fundamental shift in thinking to secure protection for the rights of conscience and houses of worship. It’s evident the significance of spiritual freedom is waning and can’t really be articulated by the wider culture. Spiritual freedom is essential to self-government and self-control. In fact, I make the point in my commentary that the most dangerous detriment to religious liberty is the popular notion that religion and faith constricts liberty. Obviously, just winning mere court cases is not enough. That ship has sailed.
I suspect today’s Supreme Court ruling regarding the Defense of Marriage Act will only complicate matters of religious conscience for churches and dissent from culture and society becomes more dangerous. Secularization of society and the rise of centralized federal power is creating a government that seeks to operate above fundamental truths and the rights of conscience. It seeks to crowd it out and diminish its influence and limiting power upon the state. During his closing address at Acton University, Samuel Gregg explained so well how moral relativism now operates in a dictatorial fashion.
Just before the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his cousin Zabdiel that I think points to our inevitable path as a nation without a rejuvenated appreciation and understanding of religious liberty. Adams declared,
The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies.