The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, specifically mentions religious freedom in Articles 2, 16 and 18. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” explicitly establishing religious freedom as a basic human right.
When working in developing nations, aid organizations often focus their aid toward expanding human rights and freedoms, such as ensuring healthy living conditions or equal education for girls. Since religious freedom is a human right, it is important that aid organizations work against religious persecution and intolerance. There is also a significant link to show that religious freedom boosts economic growth, suggesting that assuring religious freedom will help developing nations prosper overall.
4 Ways Religious Freedom Boosts Economic Growth
- Encourages peace – Religious persecution often leads to violence and conflict, disrupting normal economic activities. Conflict especially discourages foreign investment, which is necessary for economic growth, especially in developing nations. For example, many developing nations depend on tourism, which decreases significantly during a conflict. Religious freedom is also a key to stability, which encourages local business.
- Reduces corruption – The Pew Research Center has found that nations with laws and policies that restrict religious liberty have higher levels of corruption. In fact, “Nine of the 10 most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty” according to the World Economic Forum.
- Reduces harmful regulation – Certain religious regulations can create legal barriers and directly affect economic activity. For example, restrictions concerning headscarves have been used to discriminate against women in the workplace and anti-blasphemy laws have been used to attack business rivals.
- Promotes diversity – Freedom of religion encourages diversity – religious pluralism – in all areas of society, and diversity has been shown to boost economic growth. For example, the inclusion and participation of minorities can boost economic innovation. According to the World Economic Forum, “the world’s 12 most religiously diverse countries each outpaced the world’s economic growth between 2008 and 2012,” showing that religious freedom boosts economic growth.
U.S. Aid and Religious Freedom
Initially passed 20 years ago, the bipartisan International Religious Freedom Act officially made religious freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy. According to The U.S. Department of State, “Protecting religious freedom and religious minorities is an American ideal” and supporting victims of persecution and repression remains a priority.
Putting policy into practice, The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is assembling new metrics to measure religious intolerance in developing nations. USAID also works extensively with local faith-based organizations to actually deliver assistance and relief. Working with local faith-based organizations helps USAID maintain cultural sensitivity and reach community members, who often uniquely trust their faith-based organizations.
At The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference, USAID Administrator Mark Greene said, “We believe that religious pluralism, which is part of a cultural mosaic, we believe it is worth preserving as a matter of development.” Religious freedom boosts economic growth and is essential for development, which is ultimately the goal of any foreign aid.
– Kathryn Quelle