The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Religious Restrictions and Persecution: World Report Card

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has conducted a study of religious persecution throughout the world, examining the attitudes and policies toward religion of virtually every nation. The results of the study are presented in the form of a score assigned to each country, as well as geographical or cultural areas. Nations were ranked based on their restrictions on religion, ranging from very high to high to moderate to low. The results are fascinating, even if there aren't too many surprises. Three different PDF documents are available for download:

  1. Full report (72-pages - 8 MB)
  2. Summary of Results (17 pages)
  3. Results by Country (48 pages)
The report's results are based on the answers to 20 questions that address both government and societal restrictions on religion. Separating the attitudes of a nation's government and its society is actually very helpful. For example, in China government restrictions are very high, but societal restrictions are quite low. Nigeria is exactly the opposite, with benign government policies but societal hostility.

The report does not attempt to judge the appropriateness of particular restrictions imposed by governments. For example, the US policy that removes the tax-exempt status of religious organizations if they endorse political candidates is considered a restriction on religious liberty. In the same way a nation with a policy of supporting religious schools of one faith, but not of others, is also a restriction.

According to the report, a significant majority of governments (86%) subsidize religious groups, and almost 75% discriminate while doing so. Many countries prohibit or severely restrict missionaries or any form of proselytizing, and nearly 70% of governments engage in some form of harassment of disfavored religious groups. Almost half of all governments actually use physical coercion.

A total of 64 nations were ranked high or very high. This represents about 1/3 of the nations surveyed but nearly 70% of the world's population. (It seems that the most populous countries are also those with the worst policies toward religion.) When those nations with moderately restrictive policies are included, we find that 86% of the world's population face moderate to severe restrictions on practicing their religion. (See the below chart)

As you might imagine, the Middle East and North Africa regions have "the highest government and social restrictions on religion." It would seem that Islamic nations, particularly those that have instituted Sharia Law, are not very tolerant of those who belong to other faiths. No surprise there.

At the other end of the spectrum, with the fewest restrictions, are the Americas. Of course, there are some exceptions in the region, Cuba being the most obvious. (Just for comparison it's interesting to note that the score for the Americas is one-fifth that of the Middle East and North Africa.) The United States, Brazil, the UK, Italy, Japan, and South Africa are the least restrictive (most free).

There's a lot more fascinating information in the report, which I recommend reading for yourself.


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