Freedom of Religion: Cause of conflict? Or a healthier community?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Freedom of Religion

Eleanor Roosevelt holds an early copy of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish in 1948.

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, as millions of Americans await the visit of Pope Francis, we turn to resources from David Briggs, the journalist at the helm of Ahead of the Trend. It’s an influential website designed to share leading research from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), funded by Lilly, Templeton and Pennsylvania State University. This week, we are sharing from an Ahead of the Trend overview on religious freedom by Roger Finke and Robert R. Martin. This is the first column in this series …


UN illustration of Article 18 on religious freedom.

Does religious freedom fuel conflict?

American headlines continue to herald our clashes over religion—from the recent legal battles over same-sex marriage to ongoing cases of bigotry against minority religious groups. Religion can be a club in political campaigns and a target for extremists.

When Pope Francis tours Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia from September 22 to 27, the question of religious freedom is sure to be raised by the pope himself and in media coverage of his visit.

So, let’s begin with a conclusion that’s guaranteed to spark discussion this week: Governments that try to limit religious freedom wind up fostering conflict and even touching off violent clashes—especially when minority religious groups are oppressed.

That conclusion is drawn by researchers Robert R. Martin and Roger Finke, a sociologist who founded the Religion Data Archive in 2005. They write: “The social restrictions and pressures denying religious freedoms are closely tied to many of most prominent violent religious conflicts in the world today.”

Religious freedom isn’t a new human-rights issue, Martin and Finke point out. In fact, it was one of the first universal human rights recognized under international law after World War II. In 1948, it was enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today, nations that truly embrace religious freedom actually experience less conflict and less violence, as a result, Martin and Finke found.

But, do you agree with this conclusion from what you’ve seen around the world? It’s a good question to start a conversation.

Follow along, this week, as we look at the evidence Martin and Finke gathered in their global overview.

You may also care to read a related story about the unprecedented actions of one global religious leader: Pope Francis as he prepares for an American tour September 22 to 27, 2015.

Start a conversation …

OurValues is designed to spark spirited discussion, because civil conversations build healthy communities. You are free to share, email, repost or print out these columns and use them with friends or in your class or small group.

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