Religious restraints rose for 2 billion, study says

August 9, 2011

A third of the world—about 2.2 billion people—live in nations where
restrictions on religion have substantially increased, according to a
new report.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study,
released August 9, also shows that intolerant countries are growing more
hostile to religious freedom, and tolerant ones  are becoming more

"There seems to be somewhat of a polarization,"
particularly in countries with constitutional prohibitions against
blasphemy, said Brian Grim, the primary researcher of the report. "When
you have one set of restrictions in place then it's easier to add on."

with the greatest increases in government religious restrictions,
ranked from most to least populous, included Egypt, France, Algeria,
Uganda and Malaysia. Among those nations where government restrictions
declined, ranked from most to least populous, were Greece, Togo,
Nicaragua, the Republic of Macedonia and Guinea-Bissau.

report, culling data from 198 countries and territories from 2006
through 2009, also measured social hostility toward religious groups.
North Korea, one of the most repressive regimes, could not be included
for lack of reliable data.

Though researchers collected statistics
before the Arab Spring, they said the report may shed light on this
year's uprisings across the Middle East.

"It's indisputable that
increasing levels of restriction were part of the overall context within
which the uprisings took place," Grim said. "Whether they were the
trigger or they were just part of this trend in societies is difficult
to tease apart at this point."

As other reports on religious
freedom have found, it is scarcest in the Middle East and North Africa.
But Europe, the study noted, has the largest proportion of countries
where social hostilities related to religion rose. In France, for
example, women are barred by law from wearing face-covering veils.

than other groups, Muslims and Christians suffered harassment based on
their religion. But Pew researchers noted that together, these groups
comprise more than half the world's population.

Smaller religious
groups that suffered disproportionately, the study found, included Jews.
Representing less than 1 percent of the world's people, Jews were
harassed in 75 countries.

Overall, about 70 percent of the world
lives in nations with significant religious repression—a figure that
matched that of a similar study Pew undertook two years ago. But the
nations in which religious repression is increasing tend to be populous,
the study's authors noted. —RNS