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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why Care About Religious Freedom?

In my previous post I briefly summarized a report by the Pew Foundation ("Rising Tide of Religious Restrictions"), which noted that in recent years religious freedom has been in decline. What I didn't do was point out why we should care. Briefly stated, religious freedom is positively correlated with numerous other goods that even the non-religious value. In particular, on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, where 1.0 indicates perfect correlation, religious freedom correlates with the following goods as follows (from Grim and Finke, 2011):
  • Political freedom = 0.61
  • Freedom of the press = 0.61
  • Civil liberties = 0.61
  • Gender empowerment = 0.48
  • Lower % of GDP spent on military = 0.42
  • Longevity of democracy = 0.40
  • Lower levels of armed conflict = 0.35
  • Economic freedom = 0.31
  • Higher % of GDP spent on public health = 0.29
  • Overall livability = 0.28
  • Lower inflation = 0.25
  • Lower income inequality = 0.25
  • Higher earned income for women = 0.20
Considering that social scientists often get excited of correlations over 0.20, this is an impressive list. To be sure, correlation is not necessarily causation, but one could make a strong case that the structural and cultural factors that lead to religious freedom also lead to many of the goods listed above. That's why we should care.

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