Working for workplace religious diversity, equity & inclusion


Monthly Archives: August 2019

United Notwithstanding Differences: 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference

31 Aug, 2019

  • Freedom of Religion and Belief-focused Workshop
  • 2019 Civil Society Conference
  • Wednesday, August 28, 2019; 10 – 11:15 a.m.
  • Conference Room 155C; Salt Palace, Salt Lake City, UT

Description:  In any community, even in locations where there is an overwhelmingly dominant religious majority, there is a multiplicity of religious practices, thoughts and beliefs. As recent events have tragically attested, these differences often lead to strife, conflict and bloodshed.

Religious freedom lies at the core of the UDHR (Article 18) and even the U.S. Constitution.  Yet even in less severe cases, critics now openly ask whether religion belongs in public life at all. Some say that people of faith have no business speaking of their beliefs when addressing issues of public concern. Others condemn churches and religious organizations for expressing moral and religious perspectives on matters of public policy.

In other instances, however, those with different faiths look past their differences to their commonalities, seek to learn about and understand one another, and protect each other’s right of freedom of religion or belief (FORB). By comparing the two approaches, it is easy to see that respecting FORB builds an atmosphere of mutual respect, tolerance, and inclusivity, and strengthens the fabric of the community.

This workshop will demonstrate the myriad benefits that come to a society from protecting FORB rights. It will go beyond the traditional look at how dialogue between different faiths contributes to more peaceful communities and societies, and show how respecting FORB advances a globally minded population, and encourages tolerance and inclusivity.

Panel Participants

Tomicah Tillemann is a Director at New America, a non-partisan think tank and civic incubator in Washington, DC. He works with organizations including the Rockefeller Foundation, State Department, Coca-Cola, and Harvard to deploy solutions to social impact challenges worldwide. He also chairs a range of civil society efforts, including the Responsible Asset Allocator Initiative and the Global Blockchain Business Council. He previously served at the State Department as Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, leading a team that built out over 20 major initiatives in 55 countries. Tillemann chaired the State Department’s Global Philanthropy Working Group and Federal Advisory Committee on Civil Society. Tillemann joined the State Department in 2009 as Secretary Clinton’s speechwriter and collaborated with her on over 200 speeches. Tillemann’s other professional experience includes work with the White House, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Reuters, and the World Bank.  

Elizabeth A. Clark is Associate Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University.  Professor Clark has written extensively and edited several books on comparative and U.S. law and religion issues and religion in post-Communist Europe. In her work with the Center, she has spoken at and organized over 100 academic conferences throughout the world. She has also testified before the U.S. Congress on religious freedom issues, taken part in drafting legal analyses of pending legislation affecting religious freedom in over a dozen countries, and has authored amicus briefs on religious freedom issues for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brian Grim, Ph. D., is president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, a corporate trainer, and a leading scholar on international religious demography and the socio-economic impact of religious freedom.  He has extensive international experience and is a TEDx speaker and a speaker at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. Brian’s recent research finds that religion contributes $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy annually, more than the combined revenues of companies including Apple, Amazon and Google. He  is recent chair of the World Economic Forum’s faith council and he works closely with the United Nations Business for Peace platform. He is an affiliated scholar at Baylor University, Boston University, Georgetown University, and the Freedom Forum Institute. Brian is a Penn State alumnus and author of numerous works including The Price of Freedom Denied (Cambridge), World Religion Database (Brill), World’s Religions in Figures (Wiley) and Yearbook of International Religious Demography (Brill).

The Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is the executive director of Parity, a NYC-based national nonprofit that works at the intersection of LGBTQ and faith. She speaks frequently about religious liberty for LGBTQ people, collaborative bridging across faith and LGBTQ issues, and is a contributor to the Sutherland Institute’s publication, Religious Liberty: Striving for Inclusion. In addition to 20 years of chaplaincy and ministry, she is the former executive director of OUTreach Resource Centers, the Utah Pride Center and the National Program Director for San Francisco State’s Family Acceptance Project.  Edmonds-Allen, who attended Western Theological Seminary and Eden Theological Seminary, is married and has four children.

David Litvack, Deputy Chief of Staff, Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. David Litvack grew up in Minnesota, and moved to Utah when he was a sophomore in high school. He attended Westminster College, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology and Psychology. He later attended the University of Chicago to attain his Masters in Social Sciences. Previously David was the Coordinator for the Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC), as the Operations Director for Colors of Success, and the Assistant Director for the National Conference for Community and Justice. David also served as a state legislator and minority leader in the Utah State House of Representatives from 2001 to 2012. In his spare time, David enjoys time with his family, running, and learning new things.

Panel Discussion Questions

Questions for Elizabeth Clark

  • — Traditionally, a single national religion in most parts of the world has been seen as an essential social glue. But it’s also clear that protecting Freedom of Religion and Belief benefits minority faiths.  To what extent does ensuring Freedom of Religion or Belief benefit the community at large?
  • — One common concern that some express in protecting Freedom of Religion and Belief is that it might undermine efforts to protect national security. I religion something that inflames conflict?  To what extend can protecting freedom of religion and belief help build an atmosphere of mutual respect?
  • — You’ve worked extensively on freedom of religion and belief issues throughout the world. How have you seen join work on freedom of religion and belief bring together communities and religious groups?

Questions for Tomicah Tillemann

  • — In your past life when you served in the State Department, you did a lot of work focused on protecting civic space. How does freedom of religion and belief relate to that broader agenda and the work of civil society as a whole?
  • — If governments want to engage diplomatically around freedom of religion and belief, what are some concrete steps they can take to advance this agenda? What are some of the best practices you’ve encountered in your work internationally?
  • — What is your advice to the community that cares about freedom of religion and belief on how to build coalitions in support of these issues? Are there compelling opportunities that we’re not pursuing?

Questions for Brian Grim

  • — Could you give us a broad overview of the economic impact of protecting freedom of religion as it relates to the US economy? (e.g., $1.2 trillion annually)
  • — How does freedom of religion and belief within a company (i.e., being a faith-friendly workplace) benefit a company’s bottom line? (e.g., Salesforce)
  • — How does this work overseas, especially in areas where freedom of religion or belief is more restricted? (e.g., ChinaLebanon)

Brian Grim also discussed the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation’s newest global study showing that countries with higher religious freedom also have more acceptance for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association.

Questions for Rev. Marian Edmunds-Allen

  • — How might it be possible for religious liberty have a role in preserving civil liberties and to achieve “win-win” outcomes?
  • — How can we think about promoting religious liberty in ways that contribute to the common life of a divided society?
  • — How can religious liberty protections be good news not only for particular religious groups, but for citizens everywhere, regardless of religious belief?

Questions for David Litvack

  • — In your experience as a legislator who has worked on legislation focused on civil rights and equity in Utah, how has the work you’ve done been impacted by the conversation around religious freedom?
  • — What advice or insight would you provide religious communities, especially here in the US, as we navigate the political conversation around religious liberty and civil rights?
  • — What role do you think dialogue and shared experiences among different religious communities plays in protecting freedom of religion & beliefs while advancing civil rights and equity?

Bruce McEver: Top Investment Banker and Divinity School Graduate

26 Aug, 2019

Bruce McEver is recipient of the 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award.

Divinity school is not the most likely place to find a venture capitalist, an investment banker or a published poet. Well, maybe a poet.

Yet H. Bruce McEver is all of those things, and more. The man who founded Berkshire Capital Securities LLC, a global merger and acquisitions investment firm, in 1983 went on to complete a master’s in theology at Harvard Divinity School in 2011.

At Harvard, McEver noticed a lack of religion and culture courses for students at its prominent business school. With his friend Ron Thiemann, a theologian at Harvard, McEver founded a program called Business Across Religious Traditions — BART, for short — that brought the foundational ethics of the world’s religious traditions to the business school classroom.

“Jesus, the Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, these were religious entrepreneurs,” McEver said recently from his New York City office. “Almost all of our ethics spring from the religious traditions these entrepreneurs founded. If you understand the religious background of these ethics it makes them much more full-fleshed, more powerful for businesspeople.”

McEver and Thiemann went on to start the Foundation for Religious Literacy, which oversees the BART program and several others. The foundation’s Faith, Ethics and Leadership seminars bring together business leaders with religious thinkers, and its Religious Liberty Roundtable promotes tolerance and religious understanding as global good business practices.

The foundation also funds a free online Harvard course dedicated to promoting religious literacy, and it recently launched a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, expected to reach 50,000 people globally. The foundation sponsors a curatorship at the Smithsonian dedicated to religious literacy and fosters a relationship between Georgia Tech University — McEver’s alma mater — and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology with its Leadership and Multifaith Program. The program, known by its acronym LAMP, offers a series of religious literacy courses now reaching thousands of students.

“Business leaders don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Ben Marcus, a Harvard Divinity master’s candidate and an adviser to the foundation. “They need to understand why we create wealth and to what end. They need to know how religion motivates their employees and clients. Religion affects their business calculus on any number of issues, so to be literate in it is smart.”

McEver was raised in the United Methodist Church and is now a member of a Congregationalist church. He had a kind of spiritual awakening after the death of his wife, something he describes in his poem “Many Paths,” published in 2012 by The Cortland Review. Its final lines might be a foundational statement about the Foundation for Religious Literacy:

I look up into a blinding, cold sun and feel a release — an energy courses the length of my body, and says again, then again: There are many paths. Nothing has ever been so clear.

Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute, knows McEver through a program the Foundation for Religious Literacy is funding at the Newseum for journalists.

“Bruce has worked hard to put religious literacy on the national agenda because he recognizes that ignorance is a root cause of division, hate and intolerance,” Haynes said. “By investing in religious literacy education at Harvard Divinity School and elsewhere, Bruce is helping to ensure that educators, thought leaders and others have access to resources that are academically and constitutionally sound. This will be his legacy.”

Today, McEver is turning his energy toward ensuring the Foundation for Religious Literacy survives its founders.

“I am always asking how do we have a broader reach,” he said. “I am still searching. But I think, given our political climate, there has never been a bigger need than now for people to have an understanding of other people’s religious traditions.”

Business leaders often underestimate the positive influence of faith in the workplace and society in general, especially in the way that religious freedom promotes peace and stability. H. Bruce McEver, Chairman and Founder of Berkshire Capital Securities LLC, created with the late Prof. Ron Thiemann of Harvard Divinity School, The Foundation for Religious Literacy (TFRL). The foundation promotes religious understanding by bringing together business professionals along with outstanding academics and practitioners. The Foundation cultivates inter-religious understanding and practical skills through collaboration with partners such as the regional Harvard Business School Clubs via its Business Across Religious Traditions seminars. Through its Faith Ethics and Leadership seminars, leaders in business and other professions, TFRL also advocates values and ethics derived from religious and secular traditions, fostering a healthy pluralist democracy through respect for differences.

The Power of Inclusion of Employees’ Faith in the Workplace

26 Aug, 2019

by Rich Tafel

Allowing employees to share their deepest, faith-based purpose at work creates a work environment that allows them to come to work as their whole self.

This benefits the workplace by allowing for great diversity and removes fear.

As an ordained minister who also has provided coaching to hundreds of business entrepreneurs, I’ve discovered that American business has created a nice big closet for people of faith. I know something about closets as I’ve also been a leader in the battle for equality for gay Americans in the 1990s.

The workplace has made huge strides for LGBT employees but is increasingly making people of faith believe they need to go into a closet when it comes to sharing their faith

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I understand why businesses get nervous allowing faith-based language into the workplace. As numerous business leaders have shared with me, “I’m afraid when you open up the whole religion thing my employees will start evangelizing people. Will they condemn people of other faiths or no faith?” They have mostly concluded that the smartest thing to do was keep a wall of separation between work and faith be warning employees to leave their beliefs at home.

Diversity training programs have followed this path as well. If a person wants to come out as gay or speak about their ethnic heritage that should be embraced, however, employees are often told that if they want to hang a cross or star of David or the crescent moon in their office because it could offend other employees traumatized by their interaction with religion.

This isn’t easy work but true diversity work means creating spaces for people with different worldviews who still respect others. It doesn’t mean favoring one diverse viewpoint over others.

I work at a firm where I lead practice in social impact investing. A few years back, Tom Raffa, the CEO of Raffa Marcum of the firm was asked if the firm would host a discussion where employees spoke about their faith and the role it played in their work life.  Tom Raffa, who isn’t traditionally religious, also made it his mission to have the most diverse firm possible. And, he and his wife, were successful in creating the largest accounting firm in America that is majority women owned with over forty languages spoken among his employees. An early champion on welcoming gays in the workplace, he was also proud to do the accounting for prominent Catholic, Jewish, and other diverse faith organizations.

Rather than play it safe and react to fear, he asked how he could make it happen. Knowing that I was a minister, he asked me to help in the planning. Once it was clear to all involved that this was not an event to proselytize, we planned a luncheon.

The turnout was much larger than expected and HR leader facilitated the lunch by asking people to share their own faith path and how it impacted their work. What happened next was one of the most beautiful couple of hours I’ve experienced in the business. Employees shared how their faith was the driving force behind their life, family, and work. They noted that this luncheon gave them permission to bring all of themselves to work.  The diversity of the group represented the firm’s beautiful diversity. A Latter-day Saint member shared as did a Hindu employee. We soon learned that  most attendees were “non-denominational.” This title meant different things to different employees.

The common theme was that people of different faiths chose this particular firm to work at because it did social good.

Another theme mentioned over lunch in follow up discussions was how many times people of faith feel they need to remain in the spiritual “closet” at work. They cannot share that which drives their life. This luncheon, sanctioned by the firm, provided a space to be themselves.

The conversation was so lively at lunch that I never got a word in edgewise, which, for a preacher says a lot.  The high point of that discussion came from a woman in the firm that shared a beautiful story. She announced that each day when she started work she picked ten photographs on the website of employees to pray for. She also prayed for safety and success for the firm. I’m still touched today by her words. When I shared this story with Tom Raffa, he was meaningfully touched.

Creating a more inclusive work environment for people of faith isn’t just good for creating happy employees. We discovered it actually helps with sales.

Our team discovered that when potential clients learn that I’m a minister, the energy in the room changes.. Very often the client explains in deeply personal detail their own deeply spiritual catalyst for starting their business or nonprofit. They too can come out. Meeting someone who can understand that motivation and not mock or laugh at it can build a far deeper connection with clients.

Our rising secular workplace culture is making it difficult for people of faith to come to work as their whole self. By providing a space that respects all diversity, including diversity of faith, businesses can tap into a deep reservoir of goodwill that benefits everyone.

Rev. Rich Tafel is Pastor of Church of the Holy City in Washington DC and Director at Marcum Raffa Social Impact Advisors.

New Global Study: Do Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights Have Common Ground?

17 Aug, 2019

Analysis by Brian J. Grim, Ph.D.

Preface to the Study

The Religious Freedom & Business Foundation is a non-partisan NGO and does not take a position on current political debates. But we do conduct research that can inform policymakers and the public, including on issues that are hotly debated.

Unfortunately, “religious freedom” in the U.S. has become a divisive issue in recent years, mostly centered on issues related to sexuality and marriage. One side sees religious freedom as a protection against having to accommodate things they cannot conscientiously support, e.g., same-sex marriage. The other side sees that argument as discriminatory and a violation of civil rights law especially now that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the US.

As a social scientist studying the economic value of religious freedom worldwide (see my latest study), I took note of a recent study on the economic value of protecting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association, including in purchasing housing. That raised a question: If both are positively correlated with global economic growth, what is their relationship to each other?

You will likely find the following results of the first study of its kind to be surprising. Given that extremely strong views exist on these issues, empirical data from a global perspective may point toward some common ground. Time will tell.

Brian Grim, Ph.D., RFBF President

Do Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights Have Common Ground?

Religious freedom – enshrined in the US Constitution’s first amendment – is central to our national identity. It is often called our first freedom because it constitutes the first two clauses of the US Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Simple yet profound.

Given our nation’s history, including the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that passed the Senate unanimously during a time of extreme partisanship (President Clinton’s impeachment inquiry), some may be surprised to learn that the US does not rank highly on global measures of religious freedom.

According to the latest Pew Research Center data, there are 117 countries that place fewer restrictions on religion than the US.

In the US, restrictions on religion include laws and government policies such as prohibitions on proselytizing and controls on preaching (see Pew data). An earlier Pew report outlined other US government restrictions on religion, including such things as individuals being prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols; difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions; and limits on conversion.

If we flip Pew’s data around, we can use lower restrictions on religion as a measure of religious freedom. It is not a perfect proxy because, for instance, the US prohibition of religious groups proselytizing while carrying out government-funded social service programs is widely accepted, and arguably protects religious freedom vis-à-vis preventing the establishment of a state favored religion. With this important caveat in mind, using low restrictions on religion as an indicator of religious freedom means that the US would rank 118th of 198 countries and territories in terms of religious freedom, as shown in the chart (see data used for this analysis here).

This illustrates that the state of religious freedom in the US is rightly a matter of national and international concern, and not just a concern for one political party or constituency. Unfortunately, “religious freedom” has domestically become a divisive issue in recent years, mostly centered on issues related to sexuality and marriage. One side sees religious freedom as a protection against having to accommodate things they cannot conscientiously support, e.g., same-sex marriage. The other side sees that argument as discriminatory and a violation of civil rights law especially now that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the US.

This ongoing debate has created a narrative, or at least perception, that religious freedom is incompatible with the growing public acceptance of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, lifestyles and rights, which the Pew Research Center has been tracking (see: 5 key findings about LGBT Americans and 5 facts about same-sex marriage).

Given that Pew studies show that religious freedom is deteriorating globally, it is important to understand the relationship religious freedom has with attitudes toward other emerging rights and issues.

Although domestically, proponents of LGBT rights and advocates for religious freedom have found themselves on opposite sides of debates, what does an analysis of global data on the intersection of religious freedom and LGBT rights reveal? If religious freedom and LGBT rights are in conflict globally, this would add another concern to an already concerning global situation.


“Religious freedom” is defined as in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “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.”

“LGBT rights” are the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people to live openly without discrimination and enjoy equal rights, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression and association.

“Social hostilities involving religion” are hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups that restrict religious beliefs and practices. These include mob or sectarian violence, crimes motivated by religious bias, physical conflict over conversions, harassment over attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation and violence, including terrorism and war.


To examine the intersection of religious freedom and LGBT rights, we can use the religious freedom measure calculated from the Pew data and compare it with public opinion data on LGBT people and LGBT rights from around the world put together by The Williams Institute, a UCLA Law School think tank (see data used in this analysis here) .

The Williams Institute compiled major global surveys — such as Gallup and Pew Research Center polls — that contained questions to gauge public attitudes toward LGBT people and policies that guard them against discrimination. Using this information, they created the LGBT Global Acceptance Index (GAI), which provides scores for how much the publics in 141 countries of the world are supportive of LGBT people and of policies that protect their basic human rights.

Two initial notes: First, the United States ranks much better on the LGBT GAI index — 23rd — than it does on the religious freedom index (see chart). And second, about 6 in 10 LGBT people in the US are religiously affiliated, with the majority of the affiliated identifying with Christianity (see data).


Now we can turn to 5 questions that data can answer.

Q1: First, do countries with higher levels of religious freedom have higher or lower levels of LGBT rights? Or put another way, does religious freedom foster a positive or negative environment for LGBT people?

A: Among the 137 countries that have both religious freedom and LGBT data, the average level of support for LGBT rights is 38% higher in countries with higher religious freedom than in countries with low levels of religious freedom. In the third of countries scoring the highest on religious freedom, the level of support for LGBT rights was 4.1 compared with only 2.9 in the third of countries scoring at the bottom of the scale on religious freedom (see chart).

Q2: Second, is support for LGBT rights increasing or decreasing in countries with higher levels of religious freedom?

A: The level of support for LGBT rights is much more likely to be growing in religiously free countries than in religiously restricted countries, as seen in the chart below that looks at countries in groups of 25 (for demonstration purposes). Among the 25 countries with the highest levels of religious freedom, the LGBT GAI increased by 0.11 points between 2004-2013. By contrast, among the countries with the worst record on religious freedom (the lowest 12) the GAI decreased on average by 0.53 points, as shown in the chart. Also, if the lowest 25 are looked at, their average is -.047.

In fact, among the 12 countries with the lowest levels of religious freedom, only one showed any improvement in support for LGBT rights, Vietnam. The remaining 11 countries all declined in support for LGBT rights between 2004-2013, as shown in the chart.

Q3: Third, is religious freedom higher or lower in countries where there is higher support for LGBT rights?

A: The average level of religious freedom is 36% higher in the countries with higher levels of support for LGBT rights than in countries with low levels of support for LGBT rights. In the one-third of countries scoring the highest on support for LGBT rights, the level of religious freedom was 7.5 compared with only 5.5 in the one-third of countries scoring at the bottom of the scale on support for LGBT rights (see chart).

The top five countries in support for LGBT rights all have religious freedom scores of 6.0 or higher: Iceland 6.3; Netherlands 7.4; Sweden 7.7; Denmark 6.0; and Andorra 7.6. The average level of religious freedom in these countries is 7.0, as shown in the chart.

It is important to point out that these associations are not a one-to-one correlation, but represent the general connections between religious freedom and support for LGBT rights. For example, as shown in the next chart, while the average level of religious freedom in the bottom five countries in LGBT acceptance is 3.8, or about half that of those with high support for LGBT rights, there is considerable variation in the scores of the bottom five countries: Egypt 2.0; Bangladesh 5.2; Saudi Arabia 2.2; Georgia 6.5; and Azerbaijan 3.2.

It is useful to note that support for LGBT rights in Georgia may be better than indicated by the LGBT Global Acceptance Index (GAI), which measures social attitudes rather than legal norms. According to the beta version of the Equaldex index on LGBT rights, Georgia scores much better than Russia, even though Russia (2.91) has a better score on the GAI than does Georgia (1.08).

Q4: Fourth, do countries with low levels of social hostilities involving religion have higher or lower support for LGBT rights?

A: On average, support for LGBT rights is 41% higher in countries with low levels of social hostilities involving religion. In the one-third of countries having the lowest levels of religious hostilities,  the level of support for LGBT rights was 3.9 compared with only 2.8 in the one-third of countries scoring at the bottom of the religious hostilities scale (see chart; for more details on the concept of social hostilities involving religion, see Pew Research Center description of the SHI index).

This is of concern because for a number of years Pew Research data has placed the US in the “high” category of social hostilities involving religion (see data used for this analysis here).

Indeed, it is clear that social hostilities involving religion not only harm religious freedom but are a threat to all people. The recent spat of religiously biased violence in the US, including the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and the August 2019 alleged religiously and racially biased massacre in El Paso, Texas, are a shared threat to all.

Q5: And fifth, is religious freedom associated with higher or lower levels of social hostilities involving religion?

A: One of the clearest social science findings on religious freedom is its link to peace, non-violence and non-discrimination/non-persecution.

Together with coauthor Roger Finke, we detail the theory and science of religious freedom’s peace dividend in The Price of Freedom Denied (Cambridge Univ. Press). We show that, contrary to popular opinion, ensuring religious freedom for all reduces violent religious persecution and conflict. Others have suggested that restrictions on religion are necessary to maintain order or preserve a peaceful religious homogeneity. We show that restricting religious freedoms is associated with higher levels of violent persecution. Relying on data for nearly 200 countries and case studies of six countries, the book offers a global profile of religious freedom and religious persecution. While we report that persecution is evident in all regions and is standard fare for many, we also find that religious freedoms are routinely denied and that government and the society at large serve to restrict these freedoms. We conclude that the price of freedom denied is high indeed.

And to conclude on a hopeful note, while there are ongoing culture war debates over the extent and limits to religious freedom and LGBT rights in the US, various initiatives are seeking to set the battles to rest given that, as this report shows, the rights seem to rise and fall together. For example, see: Respectfully Sharing the Public Square: Protecting LGBT Rights and Religious Liberty.

For more information:

Chinese Secret to Sustainable Economic Growth: Under Threat?

16 Aug, 2019

By Brian J. Grim (葛百彦教授)

In addition to the trade war with the U.S., China’s ongoing crackdown on religion adds another weight dragging down what has been remarkable economic growth spurred on by the religious openness following the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s-1970s.

RFBF President Brian Grim will discuss the past and current situation of religion, politics, economics and culture in the People’s Republic of China at the Rimini Meeting, Italy.

Read (in Italian) a news report on Grim’s talk:

Grim’s discussion will be held in the “Paths Arena” at the annual Rimini Meeting and introduced by Luca Fiore, journalist for Traces Magazine. Join us on Tuesday, August 20th at 17:00.

The Rimini Meeting is a joyous annual gathering attracting nearly one million people including top political personalities, business leaders, representatives of different religions and cultures, intellectuals and artists, entertainers, athletes, and movers and shakers from across the globe. The theme of Rimini 2019 (Aug. 18-24) is Your name was born from what you gazed upon. See all of Grim’s events at Rimini through the years.

Chinese Secret to Sustainable Economic Growth: Under Threat?

Freedom of religion can contribute to a rich pluralism that is itself associated with economic growth. For instance, the world’s 12 most religiously diverse countries each outpaced the world’s economic growth between 2008 and 2012. Indeed, the active participation of religious minorities in society often boosts economic innovation, as the history of the Industrial Revolution has shown.

In China, during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, religion was outlawed and many people were persecuted for their beliefs. In the 1980s – 2000s there was an openness that resulted in the spread of religion, such that China is now home to the world’s second-largest religious population after India, according to demographic estimates.

A recent study in the China Economic Review finds a link between Christianity, adhered to by some 5% of China’s population, and the nation’s economic growth.

Arguably, ensuring freedom for religious groups in China and elsewhere is a way to stimulate and sustain growth in the decades ahead. It’s something every country can benefit from.

The Economic Strength of China

The story of China’s economic growth is not primarily one of competition with the U.S. The story is more complex. Peston (2014) argues that “the most important number in the world, for the past 30 years and next five years, is China’s growth rate.” Following 30 years of rapid growth at 10 percent annually, China’s growth slowed to 7 percent as the global economy went through the 2008 downturn and is now slowing even more. China’s slowdown has adverse implications for all. Living standards in the West have been shored up because China made the things people buy cheaper and cheaper. According to Peston, “We should be under no illusion that the really big thing in the world which will have an impact on our living standards is what happens in China. Nothing else really matters in comparison.”

What’s beneath China’s remarkable economic growth, which has not only given fuel to global growth but also lifted more than 500 million people out of abject poverty?

In part it is due to Deng Xiaoping opening China to market mechanisms, modern technology, and management from the West. And certainly, Chinese government policies moving the country from international isolation to integration have played a significant role. But according to Zhao (2013, 2014), an expert in Chinese business and strategic development at Siemens Corporation, these explanations are insufficient given the potential drags on the economy from government inefficiency and corruption, which President Xi Jinping is struggling to contain (Li and McElveen 2014).

China’s Religion Factor

Zhao argues that Western learning and pro-growth government policies have set loose the real creators of China’s economic success—its people and the largely Confucian culture that makes them “ambitious, hardworking, thrifty, caring for their families, and relentlessly pursuing good education and success” (2014).

Moreover, it is important to get past the notion that China is an unreligious country (see table). On the one hand, it has more religiously unaffiliated people than any other country, and it is led by a party officially committed to atheism. But on the other hand, China is now home to the world’s second largest religious population after India, according to the latest demographic estimates (Pew Research Center 2012).

Specifically, China is home to the world’s largest Buddhist population, largest folk religionist population, largest Taoist population, 7th largest Christian population, and 17th largest Muslim population (ranking between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in size) making China one of the world’s most religiously diverse nations—something which is also associated with economic growth (Grim 2014a). But the projected growth of Christianity is of particular note. A study by Purdue University’s Yang, cited recently in the Economist (2014), finds that China’s Christian population may become the world’s largest by 2030.

The growth of Christianity and the growth of China’s economy may be related, according to a new study in the China Economic Review (Wang and Lin 2014). In the study, Qunyong Wang from the Institute of Statistics and Econometrics, Nankai University, Tianjin, and Xinyu Lin from Renmin University of China, Beijing, find that Christianity boosts China’s economic growth. Specifically, they find that robust growth occurs in areas of China where Christian congregations and institutions are prevalent.

Using provincial data from 2001 to 2011 in China, Wang and Lin investigated the effect of religious beliefs on economic growth. Among the different religions analyzed, they found that Christianity has the most significant effect on economic growth.

The first among several reasons Wang and Lin site for this effect is that government-recognized Christian congregations and institutions account for 16.75 percent of all religious institutions, and such institutions are tied to economic benefit (see next paragraph). The share of Chinese institutions that are Christian is far higher than the share of the Chinese population made up of Christians affiliated with government-approved churches, which is only about 3 percent. In addition, tens of millions of Chinese belong to unregistered Protestant and Catholic Churches, and many of these also have congregational properties, clinics, and even educational institutions.

Such institutions tend to stimulate economic growth for individuals and communities. Consider, for example, a study (Cohen and Jaeger 2011) in Philadelphia led in part by Prof. Cnann (2014) of the University of Pennsylvania. They found that the 12 congregations examined contributed $52 million in annual economic value to the city of Philadelphia, for an average of $4.3 million per congregation. These benefits not only include direct spending for goods, services, and salaries, but also the safety net and networks provided to individuals, the magnet effect of attracting everything from lectures to weddings, and valuable public spaces that provide communities with centers of cultural, ethical, spiritual, and even recreational value.

Further, Grim and Grim (2016) found that religion contributes nearly $1.2 trillion to the U.S. national economy each year (see Chinese translation of this research). Such benefits likely occur in China as well, as congregational behavior is broadly similar.

Furthermore, Wang and Lin argue that Chinese Christianity’s social doctrines may also have economic impact. They suggest that Christian ethics emphasize the overall development of human beings, not just economic development. For instance, they observe that the Christian obligation to be accountable to God and their fellow believers tends to result in legal and rational investment behavior rather than illicit or wild speculation.

It may be that the impact of Christianity identified by Wang and Lin is similar to the impact of Confucianism identified by Zhao. In a public dialogue at Peking University (Beijing Forum 2010), world-renowned Confucian scholar, Prof. Tu Weimin of Harvard, and Christian theologian Jürgen Moltmann of the University of Tübingen, found commonalities between Confucianism and Christianity. For instance, Confucius’s famous quote, “Do not do to others what you don’t want to be done to you,” is almost a perfect mirror image of Jesus’s golden rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

Wang and Lin found some positive, though inconsistent economic effects from China’s other major faiths, including folk religion, Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism. (Confucianism was not included in their study, and is not counted as an official religion by the government.) They conclude that the implication is not for the country to favor one faith above another, but to “build a better-informed economics, and in the long run, better policy” (Wang and Lin 2014, 286).

As China continues to impose extreme restrictions on religion and religious groups, the prospects for its continued economic decline grow.

Respectfully Sharing the Public Square: Protecting LGBT Rights and Religious Liberty

5 Aug, 2019

“We all have an interest in a public square that is big enough for everyone; that respects all people.” – Prof. Robin Fretwell Wilson

On August 22, 2019, corporate officers and lawmakers of the 13 Midwestern states will come together to explore the need for laws that allow all people to achieve to their full potential.

Today, only four of the thirteen states making up the Midwest region (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois) protect LGBT persons from discrimination in housing, hiring, and public accommodations in the laws of their states. The other nine Midwest states do not afford such needed protections against discrimination in statewide law, although two states extend coverage by interpretation of prior law. One stumbling block for achieving state-wide protections is the perception that protecting LGBT persons must somehow come at the expense of religious communities and individual believers.

All across the Midwest, members of both the LGBT community and the faith community desire to be fully who they are, both in public and in private. However, laws can be constructed to show respect for all persons. These sorely needed protections build human capital and serve as a generator of economic development: they allow all people to achieve to their full potential. The lack of such protections represents a barrier, not only to economic development in the Midwest, but to human flourishing. In a space dominated too frequently by “warring” communities, this conference hopes to bridge this divide and open dialogue about the need for mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.


Confirmed participants include lawmakers from Utah, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Kansas. The Midwest Initiative will take place under the umbrella of the Discovery Partners Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Fairness for All Initiative.

Because companies occupy a central role——not simply as stakeholders but as engines of change within their communities——this Dialogue will foster a partnership between companies, stakeholders, and state lawmakers on laws that ultimately serve to grow the economy and workforce. Among the companies that will be represented are Allstate, Eli Lilly, Health Care Service Corporation—Blue Cross Blue Shield, SalesForce, and Zurich North America.

Co-Conveners are Stuart Adams, Utah Senate President, Andrew Koppelman, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Other participants include Dr. Brian Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, Kent Johnson, senior corporate advisor for the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation and former senior counsel at Texas Instruments, and Cameron Smith, Workplace Program Associate at Tanenbaum.