I hope our readers are following tonight’s very interesting debate — no, not that debate, though you can watch the presidential candidates, too, if you like — between Barak Richman and Dan Crane on the application of antitrust laws to religious organizations. I just want to respond to one point Dan made in his post this evening. Dan points out that monopolies are bad for religion itself: contrast the moribund established churches of Europe with the thriving churches of the free-wheeling American religious marketplace.
This is a venerable argument that, in the US, goes back at least as far as Madison’s Remonstrance. And there’s evidence to back it up. It’s worth pointing out, though, that the evidence is not as one-sided as we may think. True, establishment can lead to a lazy, self-satisfied clericalism that corrodes a church from within, and a free religious market can lead to competitive, vibrant denominations. But France provides a counterexample. Church and state have been strictly separated in France since at least 1905, and the religious market in France is not exactly thriving. Many factors other than a church’s monopoly status — underlying cultural and ideological trends, for example — can factor in its decline as well.