The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
In a world fraught with tension and uncertainty, it can be easy to lose sight of some positive changes and some ongoing issues that need our attention. Across the globe, religious freedom remains a dream and not a reality for far too many people. Freedom of religion and conscience are not only critical for individuals and communities, but studies have shown that there are many reasons why religious freedom is important and has effects beyond the realm of freedom of worship. Not only has a lack of religious freedom been linked with gender inequality, but also, freedom of religion is significantly associated with global economic growth.
Fighting for religious freedom is of the upmost importance, even for those who are not religious, not only for the moral reason that each person deserves equal access to rights and protections, but because of this connection between religious freedom and stable economies. In fact, as I discussed in October, a study done by researchers at Georgetown University and Brigham Young University shows that religious freedom is one of only three factors associated with global economic growth. Controlling for two-dozen different financial, social, and regulatory influences, the study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011. The study found a positive relationship between religious freedom and ten of the twelve pillars of global competitiveness, as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. The information suggests that religious freedom may be an untapped asset for economic growth and recovery.
The 2011 book The Price of Freedom Denied and a 2014 study by the Institute for Economics and Peace also links religious freedom with more peace. The result of restricted religious liberty is often violence and conflict, which put normal economic activities at risk for disruption and often discourage tourism, like in Egypt. Thus, tolerance is tied to peace and stability as well as economic stability.
Additionally, religious freedom is linked with less harmful regulations, reduced liabilities, and more diversity and growth. Given the many positive externalities of religious liberty, it should be unsurprising that the Religions for Peace Executive Committee and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies Abu Dhabi held an emergency meeting on “Rejecting Violent Extremism and Advancing Shared Well-being.”
At the meeting, the groups rejected every form of violent religious extremism, noting that they were “false religious ideologies of hatred” and “contradict and violate the essence of their religion.” At the conclusion of the meeting, the groups unanimously adopted the Abu Dhabi Statement and a relevant action plan which categorically rejects all forms of violent extremism and calls for a multi-religious response to such extremism. Given the importance of religious liberty across the world, it is encouraging to see groups like these fighting for peace and freedom.
Our tradition teaches us that: "God said to Moses: Is there anyone whom I do not respect? Whether it be Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid, whoever does a good deed, shall find the reward at its side" (Midrash Yalku Lech Lecha 76). God is sending us a message here and that message is clear — God will judge us based on our deeds, not our religious beliefs. As we seek to live our lives conscious of being created in God's image, we must work to ensure that no one is discriminated based on his or her religious beliefs.
As we enjoy this holiday season and the diversity of traditions, holidays and religions that are celebrated, it is important to reflect on the freedom of religion we have in the United States, and do our best to ensure that this fundamental right is a reality for the people around the world who are not able to live according to their faith or non-faith.