The history of Western civilization shows us that a trinity of liberties is almost inextricably linked. Freedom of religion, free governments, and free markets have been found together in the West for nearly 1,000 years now. These did not develop all at once. Historically, freedom of religion had to be wrested from the hands of an oppressive Roman government. This gave rise to greater political freedom, over the course of the MIddle Ages, and, with the Renaissance and Reformation, economic freedom followed.
Of course, The United States is the prime example - along with Britain and certain other European nations - of the beneficial interplay of these freedoms. The preservation of all seems almost to enhance the benefit of all, and of all the people served by them.
But we have yet to see whether it is possible to drop one member of this trinity and have the other two somehow manage to survive. This is the course that internation leaders committed to globalization have determined to take. The Economist is typical of the view that seems to obtain in most governments today - political and economic freedom are of the essence, and go hand in hand: "economic and political liberty are linked - not as tightly as people hoped 20 years ago, but still linked" (November 7th 2009). But what about religious freedom?
Religious freedom does not exist in some of the most powerful emerging economic giants - Saudi Arabia, China, even India to a certain extent. Can economic and political freedom survive without the bedrock of religious freedom underneath? The world today seems to think so, as witness the almost non-existent effort on the part of our own government to make religious freedom an issue in the modern world.
My sense is that, without religious freedom, political oligarchs will absorb economic freedom by degrees, until, owning enough economic influence, they can buy off or simply scale down political freedom to suit their own interests and agendas. When people are willing to give up political freedom in order to maintain economic security, it is evidence that they have already abandoned meaningful religious convictions; and it is a harbinger that, soon enough, all freedoms will be redefined, if not simply lost.
Which makes it just that much more important, while we still have religious freedom, to exercise it fully and to declare our intentions of keeping this and defending the other two agents in this trinity of liberties.