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Global religious restrictions rise, social harassment falls

Prayers for the World

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J-P Mauro - published on 03/25/24

Pew's examination of pandemic-era government restrictions on religion saw increases, but the rate of social altercations was slightly diminished.

A March report from Pew Research Center is casting light on the rate of government and social hostilities toward religion worldwide. The data, drawn during 2021, found growth in government restrictions on religion, while social hostilities were seen to drop. 

The metrics

The report measured government restriction and social hostilities toward religion in two 10-point indexes, the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and the Social Hostilities Index (SHI). Pew explains that the GRI examines laws, policies, and government action that regulate or limit religious belief or practices. This includes governments that extend benefits to some religious groups and not others, as well as those that require religious groups to register to receive some form of benefit. 

The SHI, on the other hand, measures hostile actions from individuals or groups that target religious groups, as well as those who use religion to restrict others. Examples of incidents that would be recorded by the SHI include religion-related harassment, mob violence, terrorism/militant activity, and hostilities over religious conversions or the wearing of religious symbols and clothing.

Government restrictions

Although the GRI recorded an increase of just .2, the median level of government restriction on religion was found to be the highest recorded since Pew began tracking religious restrictions in 2007. While the recorded rate of 3.0 is low on a scale with 10 being the highest, it should be noted that this is the median global rate, meaning some nations are more restrictive than 3.0, and some are less. 

In total, 55 of 198 (28%) global countries and territories were rated at “high” or “very high” levels of governmental religious restrictions. Interestingly, the number of highly restrictive nations has fallen from 57 in 2020, but the global rate of government restrictions rose due to more nations increasing in score rather than decreasing, even if these nations did not reach “high” or “very high” levels. 

Furthermore, it was found that religious groups reported government harassment in 183 countries in 2021. This is the highest rate recorded for this study as well. Governments reportedly interfered in worship in 163 countries in 2021, which is only down 1 point since 2020. 

Social harassment

The increases in government restrictions were mirrored in the opposite by the rates of social harassment of religions. In 2021, the SHI dropped from 1.8 in 2020 to 1.6. While social harassment was identified in 164 countries – the same as in 2020 – only 43 (22%) of them were found to have reached “high” or “very high” levels. 

While the global rate of social religious harassment has risen from 40 in 2020, it is closer to the all-time low of 18% than it is to the all-time high of 33%. Additionally, physical harassment at the social level was seen to decline from 105 in 2020 to 101 in 2021. Pew writes of physical harassment: 

“Property damage was the most common type of physical harassment reported against religious groups (in 105 countries, or 53%). Physical assaults were reported in 91 countries (46%), while detentions occurred in 77 countries (39%). Meanwhile, there were religion-related displacements in 38 countries (19%), and killings were reported in 45 countries (23%).”

See the full report at Pew Research Center.

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