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Acton Notes - March/April 2014 Notes

Rome Conference Ties Religious & Economic Freedom

On Tuesday, April 29, the Acton Institute hosted the conference "Faith, State, and the Economy: Perspectives from the East and West" at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Rev. Robert Sirico, who moderated the discussion, called the relationship between economic and religious freedom "underexplored" in society. Over 200 attended the event in Rome and the conference was made available live to anybody with an internet connection. The Acton Institute opened the Mark Murray Auditorium at the Grand Rapids headquarters for friends to watch and participate by having an opportunity to submit questions.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, who is the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, did not hold back in his condemnation of the Chinese Communist regime. "Absolute power causes absolute corruption," declared Cardinal Zen. His address was titled, "Economic openness and religious repression: The Paradox of China." He condemned the regime's treatment of Christians by adding, "More than physical suffering, religious oppression consists in humiliation."

Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, titled his address, "Religious Liberty and Economic Freedom: Intellectual and Practical Paradoxes." Gregg stressed the notion that "Corrosions of liberty in one area can damage its vitality in other areas." He also stated that "Welfare states have negatively impacted the Church's institutional liberty."

This conference, which was free and open to the public, was the first in the five-part series "One and Indivisible? The Relationship Between Religious and Economic Freedom." The next event in the five-part series will be in November in Washington on the topic of "Dignitatis Humanae: Preserving Religious Liberty in an Age of Expanding Government." You can watch the entire conference in Rome at http://new.livestream.com/ActonInstitute/Rome2014.

Acton Event Highlights Human Trafficking in West Michigan

On March 28th, the Acton Institute hosted and organized a monumental event in Grand Rapids on human trafficking. The panel discussion received a lot of print, radio, and television attention from local press. Elise Hilton, a communications specialist at the Acton Institute, played a central role in organizing "Hidden No More: Exposing Human Trafficking in West Michigan." The event brought together representatives from Michigan's state government and local community activists to shine a light on West Michigan's real and growing problem of human trafficking. "The Michigan State Attorney General's office issued a report on human trafficking at the beginning of 2014," Hilton explained. "One of the major findings was that we have virtually no data on the problem in Michigan. There is no scholarly work being done. There are no records in terms of police. The police department only keeps a record of human trafficking cases that involve kidnap or murder."

The panel featured Chief Deputy Attorney General Carol Isaacs; State Senator Judy Emmons, the Michigan Legislature's leading voice on Human Trafficking; human trafficking survivor and founder of Sacred Beginnings Leslie King; Andy Soper of the Manassah Project at Wedgewood Christian Services; and Becky McDonald of Women At Risk International.

"From all the accounts that we've heard, there is no one clear face on those perpetuating these crimes in Michigan, and there is no clear face of the victims," declared Senator Emmons. Leslie King powerfully testified to her own experiences in sex-trafficking in Grand Rapids. On the Sacred Beginnings Website, King shares some of her story:

I was a terrified fifteen-year-old child standing on the corner of Logan and Division in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pimped out and sold to the highest bidder. I was called a prostitute, a whore, and so many other hateful names that a child should never be called. No one seemed to see me as a fifteen-year-old. No one looked at me to see that I was being used, abused, and sold. It was like the whole world just saw me as trash.

Two hundred people attended the morning panel. For many of them, this was their first time attending an Acton event.

Religion & Liberty Interviews Russell Moore

Russell D. Moore, who is a leading public advocate of defending America's first freedom, was recently interviewed in the pages of Religion & Liberty. Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America. In his editor's notes, R&L managing editor Ray Nothstine noted, [Moore] "delves into why Baptists offer a unique insight on this issue because of their own persecution in American history. He also touches on the importance of ecumenical cooperation for religious liberty, an area where he has emerged as a leader."

Prior to his election to his role at the ERLC in 2013, Moore served as provost and dean of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also taught as professor of theology and ethics.

Acton Fights City on Denial of Property Tax Exemption

Grand Rapids has denied Acton's city property tax exemption request because according to the city, the think-tank "does not meet non-profit charitable status." Acton is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and their status with the IRS is unrelated to the case with the city. "We are disappointed with the city assessor's ruling, but we are confident that our appeal will be successful," Acton Executive Director Kris Mauren declared. Acton will appeal to Michigan's state Tax Tribunal. "I think the city is not persuaded because they have a very narrow definition, but that very narrow definition is not supported by case law," added Mauren.

Mauren expanded on the appeal and cities going after non-profits as a revenue stream in a short column in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of Religion & Liberty:

Government at the local level is desperately looking for new funding sources. It has turned its sights on non-profits and charities for now. Part of the reason is because localities often don't have the courage to ask for tax increases from the voters to meet their overextended public expenditures. We are only asking for the laws in Grand Rapids to be applied fairly and consistently. But we are committed to conveying the importance and power of improving our local community and the world apart from government.

In April, the Mackinac Center reported that city officials in Grand Rapids gave detailed information and background to a local reporter, but did not turn over that documentation to Acton. At a Board of Review hearing in March, a reporter for Mackinac's Capitol Confidential was told that electronic recording equipment was not allowed at the hearing. Since the city has never barred recording equipment at the hearing before, they later backtracked, saying this policy was a "miscommunication."