“Prison is a hopeless place.” That’s how one former inmate describes it. What can give hope? The freedom to practice one’s faith, even behind bars and barbed wire.
In the United States, we’ve only begun to see how impediments to religious liberty can harm and hinder certain businesses and entrepreneurial efforts. Elsewhere, however, particularly in the developing world, religious restrictions and hostilities have long been a barrier to economic growth.
To identify these realities, Brian Grim of Georgetown University and Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder of Brigham Young University conducted an extensive study, “Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?,” which concludes that “religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes.”
Katrina Lantos Swett and Daniel Mark summarize the key findings at Investor’s Business Daily:
Reviewing the GDP growth of 173 countries while controlling for 23 financial, social and regulatory factors, [Clark and Snyder] found that religious freedom not only is associated with global economic growth, but also is one of only three factors carrying that association.
As the study found, 20% of countries with low levels of religious hostilities and 20% nations with low levels of government restrictions on religion were economic innovators, while the figures for nations with high levels of hostilities and restrictions were only 8% and 7%, respectively.
While you’re munching on hot dogs, chasing the kids around the yard with a Super Soaker and generally enjoying a 3-day weekend benefit of the Founding Fathers, remind yourself (at least once) what a gift religious liberty is. Come Friday night, Saturday or Sunday morning, you can (or not!) go to the mosque, synagogue or church of your choice and peacefully enjoy the service. You can sit and be a vaguely interested participant or you can go full-throttle with song and prayer. You can go home and ponder whatever you’ve learned, or not give it another thought. You are free to pray, praise, worship, meditate.
Sometime while you’re doing all of this, think about a man named Andrew White. If (God forbid!) all our religious liberties disappeared this weekend, Andrew White would be the guy who stayed behind to tend to the flock, the faithful who are forced to sneak about to pray and worship. How do I know this? Because that is exactly what Andrew White does for his flock in Iraq. (more…)
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.
Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:
As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.
Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.
…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.
RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…
Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.
HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.
Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.
If 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.
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:
Sam 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.
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.
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.
As we approach our upcoming April 29th Conference in Rome “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East and West“, Acton’s Research Director, Samuel Gregg shares his insights on the relationship between religious and economic liberty and the threats society now faces. Gregg also discusses where he thinks places like Europe and America are heading, as well as what some of the guest speakers will talk about during the conference.
PowerBlog: Why is the Acton Institute’s upcoming April 29th Conference in Rome “Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from East to West” so important and timely?
Samuel Gregg: Religious liberty is obviously an enormous issue today for Catholics as well as other Christians. The sheer number of people who are being killed each year because of their Christian faith should be disturbing for everyone.
What’s often missed, however, is how diminutions in religious freedom affect other liberties, including economic freedom, and vice-versa. Taking away or severely limiting people’s economic liberty because of their religion has been a classic means by which governments have tried to indirectly undermine people’s attachment to their faith. This was one of the tactics used by the government of Queen Elizabeth I against Catholics in England in the sixteenth century, and, I would add, rather successful. And whether it is in the West, the Middle East, or East Asia, we can see this and others patterns emerging in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. (more…)
Not the Chinese government, which should come as no shock. But what about the United States? As this Weekly Standard blog post points out, two prominent Hong Kong democracy advocates recently visited Washington in an attempt to secure American support for political reform there, but to little avail.
The people of Hong Kong have long enjoyed economic freedom, often ranking at the top of the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. Since moving from British to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong has maintained much of its economic freedom, but is now under pressure to choose from among “Beijing-approved” candidates. Hmm. Makes one wonder about the status of religious freedom there as well.
Who better to ask than Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kuin, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, outspoken advocate for religious freedom in mainland China, and one of the speakers at an upcoming Acton conference “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.