Religious liberty is on the decline worldwide even as social hostilities over religion are rising, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The study, which gauged the level of religious freedom between 2006 and 2009 in 198 countries, found that nearly a third of the world’s population — more than 2.2 billion people — lives in countries where government religious restrictions or social hostilities rose over the three-year period.
In contrast, restrictions on religious beliefs and practices decreased in only 6 percent of countries. Because those nations are small, however, they only account for about 1 percent of the world’s population.
“Europe had the largest proportion of countries in which social hostilities related to religion were on the rise from mid-2006 to mid-2009,” the study found. “Indeed, five of the 10 countries in the world that had a substantial increase in social hostilities were in Europe: Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.”
Middle eastern countries — including Egypt, Syria, Qatar, and Yemen — also saw a marked increase in religious restrictions. Meanwhile, government restrictions declined in nations such as in Greece, Togo, Nicaragua, Equatorial Guinea, and Nauru.
The United States didn’t experience a significant jump in either social hostilities or government-imposed restrictions. But residents of two of the world’s most populous nations — China and India — were living with high or very high government restrictions as of mid-2009.
On the social hostilities front, in “nearly three-quarters of all countries, private citizens or groups committed crimes, malicious acts, or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias.”
The results of the study suggest a polarization between nations that respect religious freedom and those that don’t. “Countries that are relatively high in religious restrictions are getting higher while those that are relatively low are getting lower,” the study found.
David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.