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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Ah-ha Moment – the connection of religious freedom and business

24 Mar, 2014
Brian J. Grim, President
Religious Freedom & Business Foundation
This Op-Ed was originally released at the Venn Institute.

Over lunch in downtown Washington DC, a Turkish trade representative puzzled, “We almost never put religion and business in the same sentence, so, what’s the connection between religious freedom and business?” Fair question, given that I was introducing him to the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation.

His ah-ha moment came about halfway through our meal, but for a different reason than mine had come.

We began by talking about different ways religious barriers inhibit financial cooperation between Muslim countries. For instance, one country’s sharia (Islamic law) board might consider a financial investment instrument acceptable while another country’s does not.

We also discussed attempts in Europe to restrict Islamic halal meats because of the purported ill treatment of animals in the slaughtering process. Of course, such restrictions similarly impact kosher businesses supplying meat for Jewish communities.

But, neither of these were his ah-ha moment.

We then talked about Pakistan where businesses have accused rivals of blasphemy – a capital offense – to undercut the competition or extract revenge. The blasphemy law has also been used to ban websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia. And even questioning the blasphemy law is perilous, as two high-ranking government officials were recently assassinated for merely suggesting that they be overturned.

But his ah-ha moment came when we moved on to Egypt, where ongoing religion-related violence is not only sapping the important tourist industry, but driving young entrepreneurs from the labor market.

The loss of Egypt’s young entrepreneurs was his Ah-ha!

He recalled how until recently, it was illegal for Turkish women to wear headscarves in public jobs or even to attend public universities. While the bans on headscarves in Turkey have been lifted, ongoing employment discrimination persists against more religiously conservative women who don the headscarf. And the loss to the labor market is significant.

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By his estimates, as many as half of Turkish women today now don a headscarf but only 6% of them can find a job. “That’s a religious freedom and business problem,” he proclaimed. “How can Turkey hope to compete economically if half of women are essentially kept out of the labor market because of their religious dress,” he said, inviting me to Turkey to help them address the issue.

And this brings me to my ah-ha moment – conversations like this – not only with Muslim business people, but with people of multiple faiths as well as with people in high levels of government and civil leaders.

But, these conversations are driven by the research I did for well over the past decade.

For instance, in my book with Roger Finke, The Price of Freedom Denied (Cambridge 2011), we documented that religious freedom not only leads to less violence, but that it is also associated with a host of other socio-economic outcomes.

– See more at: Innovation in the Global Fight for Religious Freedom(Venn Institute)

The Social and Economic Impact of Religious Intolerance

15 Mar, 2014
Brian J. Grim, President
Religious Freedom & Business Foundation

I have been asked to address three questions at this afternoon’s session (10 March 2014) at the UN Human Rights Council organized by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and hosted by the Italian Foreign Ministry:

  • What impact can religious intolerance have on societies (e.g. socio-economic development)?
  • How important is it to have good numbers – data – when trying to understand issues around freedom of religion or belief?
  • What does freedom of religion or belief actually look like in society? How can we recognize it?

179767Religious Freedom Cycle

I. What impact can religious intolerance have on societies (e.g. socio-economic development)?

To answer this question, it is important to begin by recognizing that religious intolerance has a number of dimensions. Sources of religious intolerance, for instance, can be the actions or policies of governments and/or the actions or beliefs of individuals or groups in society. Targets of religious intolerance can include members of specific religions or religion in general, people who choose to change their religion or to have no religion at all, and even people randomly victimized by religion-related terror or armed conflict.

Research shows that the degree to which governments protect and respect such freedoms as communicating religious ideas in various media and converting from one religion to another, or to no faith at all, is also the degree to which societies are free from harassment of religious minorities, religiously biased hate crimes or terror, and sectarian violence.

The empirical research that establishes this connection has been called one of the most important discoveries in the study of freedom of religion or belief. Indeed, research has established that freedom of religion or belief, rather than being the source of religious hostilities, is instead the solution. When governments protect and respect freedom of religion or belief for all faiths, this reduces grievances that can lead to religious intolerance and violence.

Research also shows that not only are there fewer acts of religious intolerance when governments and societies protect and respect freedom of religion or belief, but there are also other positive social and economic dividends. These include greater respect for other important freedoms essential to a well-functioning liberal democracy such as freedom of the press, speech and assembly.

Perhaps of even more importance to some is that new research about to be published indicates that the main drivers of economic sustainability, that is indicators of global competitiveness, are stronger in countries where the government and civil society respect and protect freedom of religion or belief. For instance, more than twice the share of countries with high religious freedom are strong in innovation compared with countries with low religious freedom.

II. How important is it to have good numbers – data – when trying to understand issues around freedom of religion or belief?

I can answer this briefly because all of my comments so far have been based on a careful collection and analysis of numerical data on freedom of religion or belief. Without data to test the assertions I have made, I would be doing nothing more than sharing personal opinion. However, when opinions are informed by data, they enter the realm of facts that can be verified or disproven – and this is very important for any topic that can easily become buried beneath divergent worldviews or agendas.

I will add one new point about data. With data, it is possible to see whether religious intolerance is rising or falling – it’s rising, as shown in the excellent IDLO report. It can also help answer the essential question of how this rising tide of intolerance can be rolled back.

III. What does freedom of religion or belief actually look like in society? How can we recognize it?

I’ll answer this question in two ways. First, it looks a whole lot like Brazil, the country with the lowest government restrictions on religious freedom of the 25 most populous. The largest and most rapid religious shift has occurred over the past several decades in Brazil with no religious intolerance or violence. Not long ago, everyone in Brazil was Catholic, but today a rich pluralism has emerged with more than a third of the country converting to other faiths – predominantly evangelical and Pentecostal, but also to many other faiths including some having no faith. This ongoing, monumental and peaceful shift was supported by two things. First, the government remains largely neutral on matters of religion but fiercely guards and celebrates freedom of religion or belief. And second, the dominant faith, Roman Catholicism, also fiercely guards and celebrates freedom of religion or belief. And the latter is critical – rather than protecting their turf at any cost, the Catholic Church has embraced religious freedom and asks a very important question. What is it that we have not done that made so many people seek elsewhere for spiritual support? And what must we do to now meet those needs?

In conclusion, after studying freedom of religion or belief for decades and having lived and worked in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, I have seen that religious freedom is good for not only societies but also for economies. I also have seen that two very important constituencies are often missing from meetings like these. First, countries with success stories, like Brazil. And second, businesses, whose very self-interest would suggest they should be here.

As an initiative to bring such missing parties in, I’m happy to announce that my Foundation will be working with Brazilian businesses, the government civil society and religious groups to host in 2016 the first biennial Religious Freedom & Business Global Awards in Rio de Janeiro, the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The awards will recognize businesses worldwide with the best initiatives to promote religious freedom and diversity in their companies, societies and the world at large, competing by “weight class” – multinationals, nationals, women-led companies and young entrepreneurial companies. These Global Awards will then move in 2018 to PyeongChang, South Korea, and in 2020 to Tokyo, both host cities for upcoming Olympics. The philosophy is simple – the approach incentivizes and rewards success.


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Stay up to date on the Foundation’s activities – get the Newsletter. Also, see my TEDx Talk for the global religious freedom situation.

Foundation president speaks in U.N., Italy, Brazil, Canada, Finland & Russia (and the U.S.)

10 Mar, 2014
Geneva, Switzerland: March 10 – Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, will speak during the opening days of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

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In Geneva, Grim will discuss the rising tide of religious restrictions and hostilities that have swept the world during the past decade and the socio-economic impact of this global crisis. The meeting is organized by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). Other speakers include Ambassador Maurizio Enrico Luigi Serra (Italy); U.N. Special Rapporteurs Rita Izsák and Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt; Prof. Silvio Ferrari, University of Milan; Dr. Lyal Sunga and Irene Khan, Director-General, IDLO.

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Milan, Italy: March 11-13 – Foundation President Grim will meet at Milan University to continue planning for the Foundation’s 2015 Business, Faith & Freedom Global Forum to be held during the World Expo.

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Brasilia, Brazil: March 16-20 – Grim will continue planning for the Foundation’s 2016 Religious Freedom & Business Global Awards. Brazil’s Vice President Temer invited Grim to be part of the country’s religious freedom & diversity planning for the upcoming 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Global Awards will take place in Rio, recognizing companies around the world with excellent initiatives to advance religious freedom in the workplace, society or the world at large.

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Washington, DC: March 24 – Grim will speak at a high level forum titled “Everybody’s Business: The Legal, Economic, and Political Implications of Religious Freedom,” organized by Georgetown University. Other speakers include Ken Starr, Baylor University, and Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School.

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Ottawa, Canada: March 25 – Grim will deliver a plenary address to the annual meeting of the Religious Liberty Partnership, which brings together leaders of religious freedom organizations worldwide to discuss latest trends and strategies. He will also meet with Canadian government officials interested in how business can advance religious freedom.

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New York, NY: April 2 – Grim will speak on his latest research on how the rising tide of religious restrictions impacts societies and economies as part of the Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series. The series engages religious and congregational leaders, scholars, and thinkers from across the country in cross-denominational conversations on global issues. This call would be on the record, and available afterwards on the website. For more information see: http://www.cfr.org/religion.

Upcoming events in Finland, Russia, the U.K. and Australia. Stay tuned …
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“Religious freedom is good for business” discussed at high level events worldwide

3 Mar, 2014
Religious freedom’s contributions to global competitiveness, economic success and better business were discussed at high level events around the world over the past month, including in Brazil and Austria as well as at the United Nations, interfaith forums, a U.S. Capitol roundtable and the Canadian Embassy.

774878Brazil Vice President Temer & Grim

In early February, planning began for a bold new global awards initiative to recognize businesses with successful initiatives to advance respect for religious freedom and diversity in their companies, societies and the world at large.

Those expressing enthusiastic support include Brazil’s Vice President Michel Temer, Senator Magno Malta, Labor Court President Flavio Cooper, and Brazil’s National Secretary for Human Rights, Biel Rocha.

Also expressing support were leading clergy, including Rio de Janeiro’s Archbishop Orani João Tempesta, as well as Olympic athletes, including the captain of Brazil’s national women (football) soccer team, Bruna Benitex, and national basketball all-star Lucas Cipolini (see photos).