Religious Liberty: Between Strategy and Telos
It has become woefully commonplace to observe that threats to religious freedom are increasing in the United States and globally. In response, scholars, human rights activists, and policymakers are engaging courts, political institutions, and the public square to make the case that religious liberty merits robust protection. Historically, these arguments were crafted primarily in theological and political terms. But as the number of those disclaiming religious affiliation rises and the political climate becomes ever more gridlocked, the search is on for new ways to make religious freedom relevant to state leaders and salable to a diverse public. Thus, during a time when economic issues ranging from widening income inequality to the escalating national debt are much on people’s minds, one still-developing strategy is to explore and explain the generally positive correlation between religious liberty and economic development. On one account, there is a story here (variously intimated and explicit) about the integral nature of freedom that is quite compelling. At the same time, there are some very important reasons to be cautious about stepping away from theological and political arguments for religious liberty in favor of economic ones. Those who would protect religious freedom must first consider its telos (Part I), and then guard against the possibility that strategies deployed in its defense may unintentionally contribute to its restriction (Part II), particularly when a powerful alternative strategy exists (Part III).