Christians concerned about religious liberty should also passionately defend economic liberty. That’s what Dr. Jay W. Richards, a professor at Catholic University and Executive Editor of The Stream, argued during a talk at the Family Research Council (FRC) on November 12. He contended that religious and economic freedom were “inextricably tied” and demonstrated that few societies retain one without the other.
“The places that are the most economically free are overwhelmingly the places that are the most religiously free, and the places that are the least economically free are overwhelmingly the places that are the least religiously free,” Richards said. “These two issues, economic and religious liberty, ultimately will stand or fall together.”
Richards showed there was a strong correlation between economic and religious liberty around the world. Countries with very little economic freedom, like North Korea and Iran, also permitted very little religious freedom. By way of contrast, most Western countries enjoyed extensive freedom in both these arenas.
Despite being so tightly intertwined, Americans too often make the mistake of viewing fiscal and social issues as entirely separate. Richards called it “bad politically” and “bad philosophically” to disconnect topics like taxes and trade from those like family and marriage. Economic and religious freedom were “grounded historically and philosophically in the same set of ideas,” including freedom of association and freedom from coercion.
Richards said he intended to convince religious conservatives that they “had a stake in the arguments for economic freedom,” and likewise persuade non-religious fiscal conservatives that they had a stake in preserving religious liberty.
He particularly urged Christians to remain informed and steadfast on economic issues. The ongoing legal case that the U.S. Supreme Court recently took up involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns, exemplified this challenge for Christians. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) would force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their consciences by providing access to birth control and abortifacients.
Richards noted the “irony is that Catholic and Christian organizations advocated and lobbied for the bill that was eventually passed into law, the Affordable Care Act.” Many more religious organizations supported the government “overhauling and centralizing” the healthcare sector, which represented 16 percent of the U.S. economy, even if they didn’t specifically support passage of ACA.
While Christians may have backed healthcare reform for “noble reasons,” Richards said they failed to “think through both the economic and religious implications of the bill.” Christians ended up pushing for a “massive regulatory intrusion that made the problem worse and invariably created violations of religious freedom,” problems which many economic and legal experts foresaw long before Congress and the Obama administration ever passed ACA.
This debacle in healthcare should serve as just one example to Christians that they must remain equally vigilant for threats to economic and religious liberty. Succumbing to an attack against one will ultimately herald defeat for both.
“I think it’s almost impossible to disentangle the moral and philosophical case for religious freedom from the moral and philosophical case for economic freedom,” Richards concluded. “I really don’t know how you would do it.”