National Edition

Religious freedom means economic growth, study says

Published: Tuesday, June 3 2014 4:15 a.m. MDT

On this Wednesday, April, 30, 2014 photo, tourists visit Luxor Temple, a large ancient Egyptian temple complex on the east bank of the Nile River in Luxor, Egypt. Egyptian tourism officials, who Wednesday unveiled a replica of the tomb of King Tutankhamun in the desert valley where many of its ancient pharaohs were buried, are hoping the exhibit will help revive a tourism industry that has been heavily battered by the country's unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Khalil Hamra, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Religious freedom, at first glance, may not seem a key predictor of economic growth. But a new study released this week argues that the more religious freedom a nation has, the better its financial system can perform.

"Religious hostilities and restrictions create climates that can drive away local and foreign investment, undermine sustainable development, and disrupt huge sectors of economies," the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation stated in announcing the findings.

Those conditions, in turn, stifle economic growth, the group says, noting "the ongoing cycle of religious regulation and hostilities" in Egypt following the 2011 overthrow of Hosni Mubarak that has "adversely effected (its) tourism industry and other sectors."

"Perhaps most significant for future economic growth, the study notes that young entrepreneurs are pushed to take their talents elsewhere due to the instability associated with high and rising religious restrictions and hostilities," the RFBF said.

Growing global concerns

The new study, "Is Religious Freedom Good for Business?: A Conceptual and Empirical Analysis," is authored by three scholars in the field: Brian J. Grim, RBRF founder and president, who also is affiliated with Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs; and Greg Clark and Robert Edward Snyder, of Brigham Young University's International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Clark, an attorney who coordinates legal affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in São Paulo, Brazil, is vice president of the RFBF.

The study appears in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, and is available online.

One measure of economic progress was growth of a country's Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

According to the RFBF, the study looked at GDP growth for 173 countries in 2011 and found religious freedom correlated with lower corruption. Moreover, "when religious groups operate in a free and competitive environment, religion can play a measurable role in the human and social development of countries."

The authors analyzed 2011 GDP data and compared with data on religious restrictions, the level of economic and business freedom in a given country, and "measures of government regulation, taxes, labor issues, demographics and economic circumstances."

The result: "Religious freedom … is one of only three variables that remains a significant predictor of GDP growth," the report indicated.

In concluding the study, the authors recommend businesses "take religious freedom considerations into account in their strategic planning, labor management, and community interactions."

The authors also advise business leaders: "In evaluating locations for future research and development operations, countries with good records on religious freedom may provide a favorable environment in which to practice innovation and experimentation."

Religious freedom has been a complicated issue in many societies ranging from death sentences imposed by draconian blasphemy laws in the Middle East and Africa to more subtle restrictions through local zoning regulations, marriage and health care laws in the United States. Most religious liberty supporters have advocated from a perspective of individual rights to religious exercise and expression. Now, Grim and other scholars are at the forefront of an emerging movement that is making a case for religious freedom through its financial benefits.

Katrina Lantos Swett, an advocate for religious liberty and current vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, welcomed the RFBF study that highlights how religious hostility can drive away outside investment and undermine economic growth.

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