New study finds rise in religious restrictions worldwide
By Michelle Bauman
Government Restrictions around the World as of mid-2010. Credit: Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Government Restrictions around the World as of mid-2010. Credit: Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life.

.- Hostility towards religion has risen globally, both in the form of government restrictions and social attitudes, determined a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Released Sept. 20, a report from the center's Forum on Religion & Public Life warned that a “rising tide of restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010.”

The study found that 75 percent of the global population was living in a region in which religious restrictions were “high” or “very high,” up from 70 percent the prior year.

The report marks the third time the Pew Forum has recorded levels of religious limitations around the globe. It examines government restrictions and social hostilities towards religion in 197 countries and territories worldwide.

“Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining,” the report said.

It explained that these religious restrictions rose “not only in countries that began the year with high or very high restrictions or hostilities,” but also in many nations “that began with low or moderate restrictions or hostilities, such as Switzerland and the United States.”

Overall, from mid-2009 to mid-2010, the study found, restrictions increased in 66 percent of countries and decreased in 28 percent.

Sixty-three percent of countries had increases in government limitations on religion, while 25 percent had decreases, it said. During this same time period, 49 percent of countries experienced a rise in social hostilities, while 32 percent saw a decline.  

The study found that “certain types of social hostilities involving religion are more likely to be associated with higher government restrictions on religion.”

Both social hostilities and government restrictions were found to be highest in the Middle East and North Africa.

“As of mid-2010, government restrictions on religion were high or very high in most of the countries that experienced the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring in late 2010 and early 2011,” the report said.

“In Tunisia – where the uprisings began – government restrictions increased from the high category as of mid-2009 to the very high category as of mid-2010,” it explained.

Government restrictions also increased in Egypt and Yemen, where restrictions on religion had already been high, it noted.

In addition, the study determined that the median level of social hostilities against religion – carried out through sectarian violence, harassment over religious attire and other forms of intimidation and abuse – increased in every region except the Americas.

In the United States, both government restrictions and social hostilities increased for the first time in the four-year period studied.

Examples of this growing hostility included individuals being prevented from wearing certain types of religious attire and religious groups facing obstacles in acquiring zoning permits, as well as rising “religion-related workplace discrimination complaints.”

The report also found an increase in global harassment and intimidation of particular religious groups, taking the form of verbal and physical assaults, arrests and detentions, desecration of holy sites and religious-based discrimination in employment, education and housing.

Five of seven major religious groups in the study “experienced four-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed” by governments or social groups. Christians were reported to have faced such harassment in 111 countries, more than half of the total nations studied.

According to the Pew report, the increase in global restrictions on religion is not due to a single cause. Rather, it is “attributable to a variety of factors,” including religiously-motivated violence and “increased government interference with worship or other religious practices.”

Tags: Religious freedom

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