The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (founded 1990) is a Classical Liberal think tank, part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network, which promotes laissez-faire economics and public policy within a Christian framework. "Together, empowered by faith in God and belief in human freedom, we truly can make a difference."
The Institute organises seminars for religious leaders, academics and business leaders which aim to link economics and religion. It publishes books, journals, and opinion about related issues, and it runs a Center for Economic Personalism for producing academic literature.
Acton Institute Core Principles
Dignity of the Person - The human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator. Accordingly, he possesses intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons. These truths about the dignity of the human person are known through revelation, but they are also discernible through reason.
Social Nature of the Person - Although persons find ultimate fulfillment only in communion with God, one essential aspect of the development of persons is our social nature and capacity to act for disinterested ends. The person is fulfilled by interacting with other persons and by participating in moral goods. There are voluntary relations of exchange, such as market transactions that realize economic value. These transactions may give rise to moral value as well. There are also voluntary relations of mutual dependence, such as promises, friendships, marriages, and the family, which are moral goods. These, too, may have other sorts of value, such as religious, economic, aesthetic, and so on.
Importance of Social Institutions - Since persons are by nature social, various human persons develop social institutions. The institutions of civil society, especially the family, are the primary sources of a society's moral culture. These social institutions are neither created by nor derive their legitimacy from the state. The state must respect their autonomy and provide the support necessary to ensure the free and orderly operation of all social institutions in their respective spheres.
Human Action - Human persons are by nature acting persons. Through human action, the person can actualize his potentiality by freely choosing the moral goods that fulfill his nature.
Sin: Although human beings in their created nature are good, in their current state, they are fallen and corrupted by sin. The reality of sin makes the state necessary to restrain evil. The ubiquity of sin, however, requires that the state be limited in its power and jurisdiction. The persistent reality of sin requires that we be skeptical of all utopian "solutions" to social ills such as poverty and injustice.
Rule of Law and the Subsidiary Role of Government - The government's primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights. The government's role is not to usurp free actions, but to minimize those conflicts that may arise when the free actions of persons and social institutions result in competing interests. The state should exercise this responsibility according to the principle of subsidiarity. This principle has two components. First, jurisdictionally broader institutions must refrain from usurping the proper functions that should be performed by the person and institutions more immediate to him. Second, jurisdictionally broader institutions should assist individual persons and institutions more immediate to the person only when the latter cannot fulfill their proper functions.
Creation of Wealth - Material impoverishment undermines the conditions that allow humans to flourish. The best means of reducing poverty is to protect private property rights through the rule of law. This allows people to enter into voluntary exchange circles in which to express their creative nature. Wealth is created when human beings creatively transform matter into resources. Because human beings can create wealth, economic exchange need not be a zero-sum game.
Economic Liberty - Liberty, in a positive sense, is achieved by fulfilling one's nature as a person by freely choosing to do what one ought. Economic liberty is a species of liberty so-stated. As such, the bearer of economic liberty not only has certain rights, but also duties. An economically free person, for example, must be free to enter the market voluntarily. Hence, those who have the power to interfere with the market are duty-bound to remove any artificial barrier to entry in the market, and also to protect private and shared property rights. But the economically free person will also bear the duty to others to participate in the market as a moral agent and in accordance with moral goods. Therefore, the law must guarantee private property rights and voluntary exchange.
Economic Value - In economic theory, economic value is subjective because its existence depends on it being felt by a subject. Economic value is the significance that a subject attaches to a thing whenever he perceives a causal connection between this thing and the satisfaction of a present, urgent want. The subject may be wrong in his value judgment by attributing value to a thing that will not or cannot satisfy his present, urgent want. The truth of economic value judgments is settled just in case that thing can satisfy the expected want. While this does not imply the realization of any other sort of value, something can have both subjective economic value and objective moral value.
Priority of Culture - Liberty flourishes in a society supported by a moral culture that embraces the truth about the transcendent origin and destiny of the human person. This moral culture leads to harmony and to the proper ordering of society. While the various institutions within the political, economic, and other spheres are important, the family is the primary inculcator of the moral culture in a society.
Their policies include:
- strongly anti-Kyoto ("Religious leaders are right to remain skeptical of this effort to transform unsound science and policy into a moral crusade...Thus the market helps to see that the good environmental steward is properly rewarded for his efforts.") 
- pro-biotech ("Agricultural biotechnology, in particular, is an exciting product of human creativity and ingenuity that holds great potential to add to the abundance of God's creation and to improve the human condition") 
- against the Microsoft anti-trust case ("We must remember that the biblical theme of justice extols us from favoring one side over another unfairly, regardless of size or stature. Yet it appears that the government's case against Microsoft is the result of "knock down the successful" thinking.") 
- pro-SUV ("Protesting car dealerships for selling vehicles that improve people's lives does nothing toward showing the way to transcendental truth. It is a temptation from which, I pray, the Lord will soon deliver his people.") 
- generally anti-environmentalists ("A recent development that should be of some concern to Christians is the cozy relationship developing between radical environmental groups and Christian churches... Investing the anti-human environmental agenda with ecclesiastical authority is very dangerous, even when it is done unintentionally.") 
- Rev. Robert A. Sirico - President, The Acton Institute
- Mr. David Humphreys - Chairman, Tamko Asphalt Products
- Mrs. Betsy DeVos - Treasurer, The Windquest Group, Inc.
- Dr. Alejandro Chafuen - Secretary, Atlas Economic Research Foundation
- Mr. Barry Conner, America's Home Place
- Mr. Robert Costello, Social Security Choice.org
- Mr. Frank Hanna III, HBR Capital, Ltd.
- Mr. Alejandro Garza Lagüera, Pulsar International
- Mr. David Milroy, Reams Asset Management Company
- Mr. J.C. Huizenga, National Heritage Academies
- Mr. Sidney J. Jansma, Jr., Wolverine Gas and Oil Corporation
- Rev. Ren Broekhuizen, Pastor, Ridge Point Community Church
- Mrs. Carol Erickson Martino, Consultant, Ambrosetti Group
- Dr. William B. Allen, Michigan State University
- Mr. Doug Bandow, Cato Institute
- Rev. John Michael Beers, Pontifical College Josephinum
- Mr. F. Joseph Bradley, Audio Alert, Inc.
- Dr. Rocco Buttiglione, International Academy of Philosophy
- Sr. Connie Driscoll, St. Martin de Porres House of Hope
- Dr. Rufus Fears, University of Oklahoma
- Rev. Joseph Ganssle, OFM, Marian Associates
- Dr. Steve Hanke, Johns Hopkins University
- Dr. James C. Holland, Shepherd College
- Mr. James L. Johnston, Amoco Corporation (ret.)
- Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Toward Tradition
- Dr. Leonard P. Liggio, Atlas Economic Research Foundation
- Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, George Mason University
- Dr. Ronald Nash, Reformed Theological Seminary
- Mr. Michael Novak, American Enterprise Institute
- Rev. Dr. Edmund Opitz, Foundation for Economic Education (ret.)
- Rev. James Sadowsky, SJ, Fordham University
- Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, Georgetown University
- Mr. Harry Veryser Walsh College
Institutional donors provide much of the funding for the Institute. The Bradley Foundation provided $225,000 during 2001.
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
161 Ottawa NW, Ste. 301
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
Telephone: (616) 454-3080
Fax: (616) 454-9454
- Acton Institute website
- Jeff Smith, Lord-ing it over others: Local Think Tank Feels Right at Home, The FUNdamentalist, March 1994.
- Jeff Smith, The Acton Institute's War on the Poor, The FUNdamentalist, May 1995.
- Jeff Smith, Local Think Tank Invites Media Pundit, The FUNdamentalist, September 1997.
- Bill Berkowitz, The Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, Z Magazine, July 2000.
- Bill Berkowitz, The Catholic Power Broker, WorkingForChange, May 10, 2001.
- Bill Berkowitz, The Acton Institute, Z Magazine, February 2004.
- Media Mouse, Grand Rapids Think-Tank Brings ExxonMobil Funded Global Warming Skeptic to Town, Mediamouse.org, February 8, 2007.
- Media Mouse, Grand Rapids Acton Speaker: Corporations should not do anything other than Generate Wealth, Mediamouse.org, February 17, 2007.
- Media Mouse, Local Think-Tank Wins Award for "Free Market Solutions to Poverty", Mediamouse.org, April 11, 2007.
- Fred L. Smith, Jr. (of the Competitive Enterprise Institute), "The Irresponsibility of Corporate Social Responsibility," Acton Institute commentary, April 11, 2007.
- Media Mouse, Grand Rapids Think-Tank Receives Additional $50,000 from Exxon-Mobil", Mediamouse.org, May 18, 2007.