The Hon. B. Theodore Bozonelis, a retired State Chief Judge, and Secretary of the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has an essay on Public Orthodoxy that illustrates the connection between religious freedom and property rights. He writes that

Despite the world-wide recognition of the status of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as the spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians, the government of Turkey will give no legal standing and status to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the historical Holy Center of Orthodox Christianity at the Phanar, in Istanbul. The lack of legal standing and status in essence nullifies property and other fundamental civil rights in Turkey for the Ecumenical Patriarchate which precludes its full exercise of religious freedom. The Ecumenical Patriarchate cannot own in its name the churches to serve the faithful or the cemeteries to provide for their repose. Since it lacks a legal standing, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is powerless to pursue legal remedies to assert property rights or even seek to repair deteriorating property without government approval. (Read the rest here).

As events in Turkey illustrate, the absence of legally enforceable property rights is detrimental to religious freedom.  Important as they are, property rights alone are not sufficient.

Economic rights more broadly,  such as, the ability to engage in free economic exchange and to make a profit,  are also in the service of religious freedom as well as the individual’s freedom of conscience as well as a community’s freedom to assemble and act as a community.

Sometimes in our zeal to defend the poor and oppressed and to include those on the margins of society, we overlook the importance of property right and economic liberty. We don’t help the poor by curtailing the rights of the middle class or wealthy.

Instead, and let’s return to the situation of the Ecumenical Throne in Turkey, the first step in helping the poor and marginalized is to defend their economic liberty. What we should be aiming at is, as Hernando de Soto argues in The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else is to make the legal–and as importantly, cultural, changes need to secure the economic liberty and property rights of all but especially the poor.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory