In a world of competing ideas, persuasion works better than coercion. Coercion is about pressure, power, winning, even trickery and threat, and cares about only one side. But persuasion entails honesty, mutual concern, authenticity, equal standing, freedom of thought, and a willingness to accept the responses of the other. Persuasion requires patience and acknowledges the slow workings of the mind and heart. But coercion wants everything now and pays little heed to the human nuances that get in the way.
Religious freedom is important because religion itself is important. Religious individuals and communities are uniquely situated to help solve problems in society. Churches are behind a lot of the homeless shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, youth programs, and countless other efforts that benefit society. Simply put, religion builds social capital. The rich resources, local generosity, and human connections that religion fosters can accomplish things that other organizations cannot.
Although law is essential for providing order, setting boundaries, establishing norms, and incentivizing proper conduct, it is at its finest when it is accompanied by a culture of nurture, trust, and gentleness. If not, the enforcement of law by governments or the assertiveness of social majorities can stunt the vitality of the human spirit.
But religious freedom is not absolute. Limitations are appropriate where necessary to protect the life, property, health, and safety of people of different persuasions of faith and to prevent infringements upon the rights of others. Neither should religious freedom always prevail over the right of democratic institutions to establish the basic framework of society.
Implanted in every human heart is the desire for respect, dignity, equity, and the ability to practice one?s beliefs, alone or in a community of believers. This is now acknowledged through the wider acceptance of the reality that the journey of faith for some may not include organized religion. They are free to explore their journey. Religious freedom has grown to have the force of a fundamental human right, grounded in the very nature of the human soul.
However, any limitations that are imposed should be only those that are essential to protect the rights of all and should not become a way of abridging religious freedom. Moreover, whenever the law constrains religious freedom, religious communities should lead by example by obeying the law while seeking to protect their fundamental rights through available lawful means.
Aligning the interests of the individual with the whole involves a careful dance of reciprocity. So, religious freedom is as much a duty as it is a right, as much an obligation to give as a privilege to receive. If it doesn?t work for everyone, it doesn?t really work for anyone.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is brief but powerful: ?Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.?
Studies show that protecting different religious practices correlates strongly with greater civil and political liberties, greater press and economic freedoms, fewer armed conflicts, better health outcomes, higher levels of income, better education for women, and higher overall human development.
Countries with more religious freedom have more peace. And countries with less religious freedom have less peace. But peace is more than the absence of conflict. Peace is the habit of engaging differences, the practice of negotiating disagreements between neighbors, a culture of fairmindedness. It?s simply how we treat each other. This is how we tame the enemies of peace?the fear and resentment that fester between people.
It has been shown that highly religious people are more likely to volunteer not only for religious causes but also for secular ones. And religious people are three times more likely than the secular to contribute to charities and to volunteer each month. This is not to suggest that charity is a monopoly of the religious, but it confirms that people who are situated in religious congregations have resources and social habits that make charity easier. And our world needs all the help it can get.
Italian social scientists have identified a direct link between religious belief and trust. Here is what they said: ?We find that on average religion is associated positively with attitudes that are conducive to free markets and better institutions. Religious people trust others more, trust the government and the legal system more, are less willing to break the law, and are more likely to believe that the markets? outcomes are fair.?
As the theme of this conference recognizes, strong religious values are essential to creating healthy societies. A groundbreaking study released in 2014 by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011, controlling for two dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences, and found that the presence of religious freedom in a country is one of only three factors significantly associated with global economic growth.
First, the presence of religious freedom is associated with lower levels of corruption. Corruption has a corrosive effect on society, weakening public trust in leaders and institutions and impoverishing entire economies. The absence of corruption, on the other hand, is often cited as one of the key ingredients necessary for sustainable economic development.
Second, Grim points to a growing body of research demonstrating that religious freedom fosters peace in society. This freedom helps reduce incidents of religious violence and conflict. And in societies where religious freedom is not respected and protected, the result is often the opposite?there?s an increase in violence and more frequent conflicts disrupting the everyday economic activities essential for business to flourish.
Third, religious freedom encourages broader freedoms. Significant empirical evidence points to a strong correlation between the presence of religious freedom and other freedoms, along with a variety of positive social and economic outcomes ranging from better health care to higher incomes for women.