Government restrictions on religion reach ‘peak levels’ in latest Pew global survey — By: Catholic News Agency

This photo taken on Jan. 15, 2024, shows a Chinese flag fluttering below a cross on a Christian church in Pingtan, in China’s southeast Fujian province. / Credit: GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Mar 26, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Government restrictions on religion reached their highest levels ever in a key global survey this month, one that has been monitoring those trends for nearly two decades.

Pew Research said this month that its religious restriction and hostilities survey showed that in 2021, government restrictions on religion reached “a new peak globally,” registering “the highest global median score” in the nearly 20 years that they have been analyzing the global data. 

Overall China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Algeria topped the report’s list of countries with “very high” government restrictions. Nigeria and India were the worst-ranked countries for social hostilities. 

Pew in its report noted several changes to both lists. Between 2020 and 2021, Pakistan and Turkmenistan moved from the list of countries with “high” government restrictions to those with “very high” restrictions. The Eastern African country of Eritrea and the Southeast Asian country of Brunei both moved from the “very high” category to “high.”

Roughly equal numbers of countries between 2020 and 2021 had increases and decreases in their government restriction scores, Pew said, while 55 countries had no changes at all. 

No countries moved up into the “very high” category of social hostilities, meanwhile, though several — including Iraq and Libya — moved from “very high” to “high.”

The survey showed religious groups facing government harassment in 183 countries, which Pew said was the highest on record; the governments of just over 160 countries, meanwhile — a near-record number — interfered with religious worship.

“Harassment” in Pew’s survey includes the “use of physical force targeting religious groups” and “derogatory comments by government officials” as well as “laws and policies that single out groups or make religious practice more difficult.”

“Interference” in religious worship, meanwhile, was defined as “laws, policies, and actions that disrupt religious activities, the withholding of permits for such activities, or denying access to places of worship” as well as rules that interfere with burial rights and other components of religious belief. 

The total number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions declined slightly from the prior year, though the “median index score for all countries” still rose overall. 

Just over one-fifth of countries had high levels of “social hostilities” involving “violence and harassment by private individuals, organizations, or groups,” a decline from its peak of about one-third of countries in 2012. 

Among the cited restrictions and hostilities in the report are Nicaragua’s persecution of the Catholic Church in that country and the kidnapping of multiple Catholic clergy in Haiti.

The survey also cited incidents such as what the U.S. State Department called a campaign for the “de-Islamization of the Netherlands,” led by politician Geert Wilders, as well as reports of antisemitism in Finland coupled with an insufficient police response to those incidents. 

Christians were targeted in 160 of the surveyed countries, while Muslims were harassed and restricted in just over 140 and Jews in 91.

The survey argued that the frequency of harassment “should not be interpreted” to indicate that those groups are the “most persecuted” in the world. Jews, for instance, were the third-most harassed religious group in the survey, though they make up just 0.2% of the world’s population. 

Globally, across regions, countries in Eastern Europe and Asia posted the highest rates of government restrictions on religion, while countries in Western Europe and much of Africa reported high to moderate levels of those restrictions. Restrictions in the United States were listed as “moderate.” 

Overall, the survey’s global government restriction index was the highest on record, reaching 3.0 on a 10-point scale and up from 1.8 in 2007.

The 10-point social hostilities index, meanwhile, stood at 1.6, up from 1.0 in 2007. 

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