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Allen D. Hertzke

Why Religious Liberty Matters

A moment of strategic opportunity.

It is rare when a book itself marks a liminal moment in human history. Such a claim seems like blatant hyperbole. But The Price of Freedom Denied: Religious Persecution and Conflict in the Twenty-First Century, plus the wider scholarly enterprise underlying it, represents a unique culmination of centuries of thought and struggle against religious persecution and for protection of the rights of conscience, belief, and exercise enshrined in international law but massively violated in the world today.

What makes this book historic is this: for centuries, even millennia, great thinkers have made assertions about the dangers of state favoritism and coercion in matters of religion, along with claims about why people should have the right to peacefully exercise transcendent duties unmolested by political authorities. We now have the means to rigorously test such conjectures. This is what Brian Grim and Roger Finke do. By marshaling unprecedented global data and applying new empirical methods, they not only corroborate hypotheses about the price of freedom denied. They also provide a compelling theory that explains why society works the way it does.

In brief, Grim and Finke probe the question of why religious liberty matters. Their answer is theoretically elegant and empirically powerful: when religious freedoms increase, inter-religious conflict declines, grievances lessen, and persecution wanes. On the other hand, as government restrictions increase—often at the behest of dominant religious groups—so do violent persecution, inter-religious hostilities, and regional strife. Grim and Finke's theory, which explains the interaction between societal pressures and government practices, provides real guidance to policy makers struggling with renascent religious tides.

To understand how this enterprise came about, a bit of scholarly history is helpful. Roger Finke is one of the pioneers of the "supply side" theory of religion, which contends that restrictions that exact ...

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