By / Jul 29

Religious liberty is “the condition in which individuals or groups are permitted without restraint to assent to and, within limits, to express and act upon religious convictions and identity free of coercive interference or penalty imposed by outsiders, including the state.” The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta was June 15, 2015, and Magna Carta set forth, for the first time in Western law, the revolutionary idea that all people are subject to the rule of law. Magna Carta propounded 63 distinct liberties, first of which was the freedom of the English Church:

“In the first place we grant to God and confirm by this our present charter for ourselves and our heirs in perpetuity that the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights fully and its liberties entirely.”

This Western tradition of religious freedom, though wrought with inconsistencies, carried forward to the formation of the United States of America. America’s cherished first freedom enshrined in the Bill of Rights states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Religious liberty, however, is not just an American or Western value. The 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief set forth the truth that violations of religious liberty have “brought, directly or indirectly, wars and great suffering to mankind.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Declaration on the Elimination of Intolerance and Discrimination each decry the violation of religious liberty and are considered binding on roughly three-fourths of the world’s nations.

Unfortunately, not all nations of the world respect religious freedom. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 as an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory commission that monitors religious freedom worldwide and acts as policy advisors to the Executive and Legislative branches of the U.S. government. USCIRF bases its analysis and recommendations on its statutory authority and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In its recently released 2015 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the designation of 17 countries as Tier 1 countries of particular concern, or CPC, including China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Vietnam. The USCIRF also placed 10 countries on the Tier 2 list, countries that do not fully meet the CPC standard, but are nonetheless characterized by at least one of the elemental violations of CPC countries. Those countries include Cuba, India, Turkey and Russia. These countries are marked not by the religious freedom guaranteed in Magna Carta, the U.S. First Amendment or U.N. Declaration, but rather act in violation of the first and most basic human right.

But, what does this have to do with international trade law? Like the obligation to minimize or prevent certain human rights labor violations in the global supply chain, international trade law can be used to combat religious liberty violations around the world. In fact, United States Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, has taken the lead to make international religious freedom a cornerstone of American trade policy for the first time in the nation’s history.

Om May 18, 2015, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Sen. Lankford’s amendment to the Senate version of the Trade Promotion Authority bill by a vote of 92-0. The amendment added a provision to TPA’s overall negotiating objectives requiring the Obama Administration to consider the religious freedom record of parties to trade negotiations. The amendment does not provide specific directives on how the Obama Administration should consider a country’s religious freedom record in trade negotiations, but makes clear that the U.S. will take seriously the religious freedom of all people in all nations – religious liberty is of more importance than economic liberalization. The provision will be the first time in American history that religious freedom will be taken into account during unilateral trade agreement negotiations should it pass the U.S. House and be signed into law.

The trading partner most directly impacted by Sen. Lankford’s religious liberty amendment to TPA is Vietnam, the only country currently party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and named to the USCIRF Tier 1 CPC list. According to the USCIRF 2015 Annual Report, Vietnam severely restricts independent religious practice and represses individuals and religious groups its government views as challenging its authority. Individuals remain imprisoned for religious activity or religious freedom activity. The USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be named a Tier 1 CPC every year since 2001.

It is unclear, though, just how Vietnam might be impacted by the amendment in TPP negotiations. The U.S. trade delegation could choose to minimize the objective, making a joint declaration in any trade agreement with no compliance teeth. The U.S. trade delegation may pursue a path with more teeth and tie the reduction of customs duty for goods sourced from Vietnam to the certification of liberalized religious liberty policies. The most aggressive, and least likely, would have the U.S. trade delegation negotiate a change in Vietnamese religious liberty policy parallel with a trade agreement. Regardless of the implementation, though, the existence of a negotiating objective related to the advance of religious liberty globally is a welcome sight even as the U.S. pursues trade liberalization.

Economic freedom is important, but religious freedom is more important. To echo Sen. Lankford’s floor speech, the greatest American export is the “dignity of each person…[and that] every person should have protection of the government to live their faith, not the compulsion of the government to practice any one faith or to be forced to reject all faith altogether.” The U.S. can pursue both policy goals – the expansion of religious liberty globally and trade liberalization. There is no dichotomous split between the goals and trade agreements can serve as a vehicle to effectively influence countries to pursue the “dignity of each person” by protecting religious liberty.

By / Sep 5

Driving down Hawthorne Boulevard the other day I looked up to see Portland, Oregon’s version of Whole Foods called New Seasons Market. The tagline on the building says, “Locally Owned, Locally Grown.” On their website New Seasons is filled with phrases such as “home grown,” “we live local,” and “commitment to the community.” New Seasons is popular in Portland, like the other local restaurants and shops that seem to open daily in Southeast Portland. What is it about local that people love? Why are many cities in the U.S. seeing a resurgence of the Ma & Pa stores? And is there something deeper people are reaching for?

The local la la is at least in part a reaction to the phenomenon known as globalization. Globalization is the process of international integration of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture. Globalization was triggered by advances in communication and transportation, but most recently it has been accelerated by the Internet. In short, globalization flattens space and time detaching things from particular localities. (I am not curmudgeonly enough yet to think either of these movements are inherently bad. What bothers me is a false dichotomy where one ignores the benefits of the opposing services. My opinion is that it is best for them to live in tension. But that does not mean each faction does not have its own ripple effects.)

Globalization, as Cavanaugh puts it, is a “master narrative.”[1] While bringing things together, ironically it fragments things. The Mcdonaldization of Society causes everything and everyone to line up and taste the same burger in less than a 90 second wait. Whether one is in Paris, Kentucky or Paris, France the McDouble is offered with the same “cheese” and ketchup. But the masternarrative “produces fragmented subjects incapable of telling a genuinely catholic story.”[2] The catholicity of the movement subsumes the local under the universal and everything loses its distinctiveness. Cavanaugh gives the example of Mexican food being popularized in places like Minnesota.

Just as the food must be universalized and made bland enough to appeal potentially to the taste of anyone anywhere, to compete there must be a simultaneous emphasis on its unique qualities; advertised images must be rooted in a particular location, for example the traditional Mexican culture of the abuelita before the clay oven sipping pulque and shaping tortillas in the palm of her hand. Anyone who has stood at a Taco Bell counter and watched a surly white teenager inject burritos with a sour cream gun knows how absurd these images are.[3]

The ephemeral particularity is the flipside of a dominant universality. The illusion of diversity is shattered by the combined architectural Pizza Huts and Taco Bells. Everyone knows Italy and Mexico are not together enclosed in the clear glass double-doors.

New Seasons and other local shops and restaurants therefore resist the globalization by bragging of their local space. Rather than flattening time and space, they open themselves up to the space surrounding them by not garnering their products (at least not all of them) from Florida and China. This resistance is met with open arms, for people desire to feel a sense of rootedness, of belonging.[4]

Cavanaugh rightly argues in his article that the Lord’s Supper, or what he refers to as the Eucharist, overcomes the dichotomy of the universal and the local. By collapsing spatial divisions, the Lord’s Supper tells a spatial story about the destiny of the world. The Lord’s Supper is catholic in the truest sense. It is celebrated by those across the world who acknowledge the Lordship of the man from Galilee. However it has a “decentered center; it is celebrated in the multitude of local churches scattered throughout the world, with a great diversity of rites, music, and liturgical spaces.”[5] The Lord’s Supper is a region whose middle point is everywhere, yet also restricted. The Body of Christ is present in each rite (with the body of Christ) across the African huts, the Protestant warehouses, and the Roman Catholic cathedrals. The Lord’s Supper unites while also respecting the locality of each congregation. The Lord’s Supper refocuses space so that the more one becomes united to the whole the more tied one becomes to local. The global ensues centered locality, and further locality enlarges globalization. Thereby world in a sense collapses in the local assembly in the taking of the bread and wine.

And the Lord’s Supper not only overcomes the dichotomy of the universal and local but tells a cosmic story. Hebrews 12:22-24 speaks of those coming to Mount Zion. Mountains are intermediary sites where the heavenly and the earthly meet. And where the two realms meet there is a city. In the city there is a festal gathering of the firstborn which is a way of describing a sizeable feast. On Mount Zion the whole church is united and the temporal and spatial walls are torn down. It is a local celebration with global proportions, and global portions. “The consumer of the Eucharist is no longer the schizophrenic subject of global capitalism, awash in a sea of unrelated presents, but walks into a story with a past, present, and future.”[6] The consumer by absorbing a body is absorbed into a new body. The localities of the world’s distinct cuisine are on the common table, and a chair exists for people from every nation. The world is in a wafer.

Neither New Seasons nor McDonalds should be shunned. They are both reaching for a greater meal each has their part to play in the arch of the cosmos bending toward a great reality. We don’t get many descriptions of what the kingdom of heaven will be like, but we do know that it will be a meal, and we also know that many nations will be gathering. A joyous global and local feast approaches.