Religious restrictions on the rise worldwide, Pew survey shows

A study released today by the Pew Forum shows that religious intolerance is on the rise globally, and that a majority of the world’s population live in countries with “high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion,” a 5 percent increase percent over the previous year. The Guardian reports:

While the survey notes growing religious restrictions in places where that might be expected, including in Nigeria which has seen a spate of attacks against Christians, as well as in Indonesia, where pressure from Islamists forced dozens of churches to close, it also identifies growing problems in some western democracies including Switzerland, which, in 2009, banned the construction of minarets, and the US.

The report – which detailed religious freedom up until the end of 2010 and is the third such survey Pew has carried out – says it identified a four-year high involving “harassment or intimidation of particular religious groups” – including five out of seven of the main religious groupings – including Jews, Christians, Buddhists and adherents of folk or traditional religions.

Not all religions, however, faced harassment in the same way.

“Christians,” the survey reports, “were harassed by government officials or organisations in 95 countries in the year ending in mid-2010 and by social groups or individuals in 77 countries.

“Muslims also were more likely to be harassed by governments (74 countries) than by social groups or individuals (64 countries). Jews, by contrast, experienced social harassment in many more countries than they faced government harassment.”

The United States has moved from the low category of government restrictions on religion to the moderate category for the first time, according to the study. NPR quotes from the Pew report:

“In the year ending in mid-2010, there was an increase in the number of incidents in the U.S. at the state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. This included incidents in which individuals were prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols, including beards, in some judicial settings or in prisons, penitentiaries or other correctional facilities. Some religious groups in the U.S. also faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions. The U.S. also experienced an increase in social hostilities involving religion during this same period. A key factor behind the increase was a spike in religion-related terrorist attacks in the U.S. The increase also reflects a rise in the number of reported religion-related workplace discrimination complaints.”

The report mentions the incidents we’re familiar with, including the attempt to stop the building of the Murfreesboro, Tenn. mosque. But it also said that for the first time, this report included allegations that “some level of government in the U.S. had imposed limits on conversion.”

They cite a case in which an inmate was denied the right to change his religious affiliation to Muslim.

“The inmate complained that he could not participate in Ramadan observances without an official change to his religious designation in the New York Department of Correctional Services’ records,” Pew reports.

Read NPR’s full story here; The Guardian story here; and the text of the Pew report here.

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