Worldwide, both government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion decreased modestly from 2013 to 2014 despite a rise in religion-related terrorism, according to Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion:
Of the 198 countries included in the study, 24% had high or very high levels of government restrictions in 2014 (the most recent year for which data are available), down from 28% in 2013.There was a similar decline in the share of countries with high or very high social hostilities involving religion, which dropped from 27% to 23%. This is the second year in a row the number of countries with this level of religious restrictions has declined, after three years of steady increases.
Although only about a quarter of the countries included in the study fall into the most religiously restrictive categories, some of the most restrictive countries (such as Indonesia and Pakistan) are very populous. As a result, roughly three-quarters of the world’s 7.2 billion people (74%) were living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities in 2014, down slightly from 77% in 2013.
Religious freedom has been described as democracy’s canary in the coal mine.
“Religion is seldom a purely private matter,” argues Thomas F. Farr, visiting professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, as people “draw on their religious beliefs to shape the laws and policies under which they live their lives.”
In his World of Faith and Freedom, he writes that the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliates have done excellent work in seeding democracy, and assisting groups cultivating the “civil society of those voluntary associations and non-governmental organizations that teach citizens the habits and the virtues that democracy needs.” But religious freedom should also figure more largely in the work of democracy assistance groups, he says.
The modest declines in countries with high restrictions or hostilities took place despite a marked increase in the number of countries that experienced religion-related terrorist activities, including acts carried out by such groups as Boko Haram, al-Qaida and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), the study adds:
The increase in the number of countries with religion-related terrorist activity – which is counted as a social hostility in this study – was offset by decreases in the number of countries that experienced other types of social hostilities involving religion.
Several factors contributed to the overall decline in government restrictions on religion. For instance, there was a decrease in the number of countries where some level of the government – national, provincial or local – interfered with worship practices. There also was a sizable drop in the number of countries where governments used force against religious groups that resulted in individuals being killed, physically abused, imprisoned, detained or displaced from their homes. RTWT