WASHINGTON — Religious freedom helps everyone, no matter what political or religious affiliation, a diverse group of religious freedom experts agreed Wednesday at the 2014 AEI Evangelical Leadership Summit.
The panel, moderated by Focus on the Family's Tim Goeglein, featured Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious LIberty Commission, Brian Grim of the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, and Timothy Shah of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown.
Moore argued that a huge threat to religious freedoms in the United States is the readiness of most religious groups to think of the state as the ultimate say on everything in culture.
"There is always a temptation to see state as the ultimate," Moore explained. "There must be an understanding of the goodness and orderliness of the state, while also the recognition that there are things more important than that. We live in a culture where whatever is around us seems most important."
Moore said the burden to fight for religious liberties is not just about Judeo-Christian beliefs, but that Evangelicals are called to fight for freedoms for all religious motivations. He also stated that evangelicals should bring back the use of the term "separation of church and state," but in a different context.
"It doesn't mean that church and government should be apart," Moore said. "But that the state is limited and doesn't have lordship and direction over the church." Moore purported that evangelicals should champion the religious freedoms of all religions, otherwise evangelicals are "not only willing to be persecuted, but willing to be persecutor."
Brian Grim presented an extensive statistical presentation which gave evidence that those countries who participate in restricting the religious liberties of their constituents hurt their gross domestic product (GDP).
"Why should businesses be concerned about religious freedoms?" Grim asked. "Because religious persecution is a predictor of a lower GDP."
Over 43% of the countries in the world have restrictions on religious liberties, Grim reported.
Tim Shah, who spent most of the summer in India where there is rising Christian persecution, talked about the importance of arguing that religious freedom benefits everyone, not just the religious.
"We need to make arguments that this persecution is bad for our global common good," Shah stated. "That it is bad and will not let our country flourish. Religious persecution demonstratively spawns division."
Shah also explained the advantages of having religious liberties.
"The presence of religious liberties promote civility and the empowerment of vulnerable groups," Shah explained. "Poor women in India ... the untouchbables ... who enjoy the religious freedom of converting to Christianity experience a wide range of socioeconomic advantages."
Goeglein asked the experts at the end of the session about their predictions on the advancement of religious liberties in America in the future. Grim and Moore both expressed strong optimism that Americans would eventually enjoy freedom from the possibility of having their religious liberties tested, but Shah was not nearly as convinced of it as the others were, saying he was "pessimistic about the situation changing."