ICC NOTE: The Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has penned a well written and thoughtful article related to religious freedom by the numbers. They successfully explain how important religious freedom is not only to the prosperity of Christians and other religious minorities, but also for a nation in general. The economic, political, and cultural ramifications of a nation who protects religious freedom tend to shift in the positive direction as opposed to nations and governments who wish to suppress the fundamental human right to worship freely.
4/25/2016 Washington, DC (The Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission)– It’s remarkable, really. At the same time religious freedom appears both at a height of controversy in America and utterly collapsing in the Middle East, the world has at its fingertips volumes of research that affirm how good religious freedom is for every human on earth.
Most of us typically approach religious freedom through theology, philosophy, or history. Christians provide biblically informed arguments and learn from the history of our own tradition, both as martyrs and as oppressors. Similarly Judaism, Islam, and other religions provide their own rationale for religious freedom from within their traditions. And non-theists recognize their own self-interest in religious freedom when they are victims of theocratic oppression. We continue to need to cultivate and promote those reasons from within each religion and other worldviews.
But you may not have heard about the data-driven research that provide new tools with which to promote religious freedom. Sociologists and other scholars continue to find that religious freedom is a key ingredient to human flourishing around the globe.
Why do these evidence-based tools matter? In addition to providing worthwhile inquiry into human flourishing, these tools help communicate the universal value of religious freedom while bypassing animosity often rooted in ideological, political, or religious differences. For example, a national government might not care much about religious freedom because it wants to define and protect a national identity that includes religious identity.
For example, Indonesia’s government might understand the national identity of Indonesia to require most citizens to be Muslim. To be a Greek citizen with equal rights might mean to join the Greek Orthodox church. In Kazakhstan you might have a choice between either the Sunni expression of Islam there or an Orthodox expression of the Christian faith, but you’ll find your civil rights limited should you choose a minority faith, even if it is another expression of Islam or Christianity. In these environments religious freedom might be rejected as a threat to national identity.
Yet many government leaders desire some level of national security and economic prosperity. It just so happens that religious freedom strongly correlates to both security and prosperity. Thus, the evidence-based arguments for religious freedom provide both an appeal to the self-interest of national leadership and non-ideological arguments for those who genuinely seek the good of their people.
Here’s a quick glimpse at the research for further learning:
People are more safe and secure
Religious freedom correlates with the security of a people. For several years now the Pew Research Center has collected data that confirms this: the higher government restrictions are in given country, the higher incidence of social hostilities. Lower restrictions correlate to lower hostilities. A government that seeks the good of their people (Rom 13:14) ought to keep a light touch when considering restrictions on religion. In contrast, totalitarianism–religious or secular–steers citizens headlong into conflict and violence. Sometimes the hostilities are at the hands of the government, other times it is at the hands of the people while the government looks the other way.
The Pew research also shows a strong correlation between general governmentrestrictions and the targeting of religious minorities. Of 59 countries with high government restrictions, 43 of them employed restrictions that targeted specific religious minorities. Thus, where government restrictions exist for everyone, the experience of someone in a religious minority is likely to be more severe than even their neighbor in the religious majority. Research further shows religious freedom correlates highly “with the presence of other freedoms…that have significant correlations with a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women.”