The Story: Restrictions on religion increased across the globe between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The Background: The Pew study finds that 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 percentage of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010, notes the report "Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier."
According to the report, the rising tide of restrictions is attributable to a variety of factors, including increases in crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias, as well as increased government interference with worship or other religious practices.
The new study scores 197 countries and territories on two indexes. The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) measures government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs or practices. The GRI is comprised of 20 measures of restrictions, including efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities.
The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:
• Five of the seven major religious groups monitored by the study - Jews, Christians, Buddhists, adherents of folk or traditional religions, and members of other world religions - experienced four-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments, or by individuals or groups in society
• Government or social harassment of Christians was reported in 111 countries; harassment of Muslims was reported in 90 countries; harassment of Jews was reported in 68 countries.
• Christians were harassed by government officials or organizations in 95 countries in the year ending in mid-2010 and by social groups or individuals in 77 countries.
• Over the four years studied, the number of countries with very high government restrictions on religion rose from 10 as of mid-2007 to 18 as of mid-2010.
• The number of countries with very high social hostilities also rose, from 10 as of mid-2007 to 15 as of mid-2010
• The United States was among the 16 countries whose scores on both the Government Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index increased by one point or more in the year ending in mid-2010.
• The number of religion-related workplace discrimination complaints that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) determined had "reasonable cause" rose from 136 to 314.
• 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.
• Overall, restrictions increased at least somewhat in 66% of countries and decreased in 28% between mid-2009 and mid-2010.