The U.S. is a rarity among nations. Among its unique attributes is a commitment to religious liberty.
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The real surprise is Europe. Explains Pew: “The relatively high government restrictions score for Europe’s 45 countries is due in part to former Communist countries, such as Russia, which have replaced state atheism with state-favored religions that are accorded special protections or privileges.” Further, some Western European nations restrict “cults.”
All told, Pew finds that 43 nations have high or very high restrictions. Adds Pew: “because many of these are populous countries (including China, India and Pakistan), more than half (57%) of the world’s population lives with high or very high government restrictions on religions.” Just a quarter of the globe’s people live in societies which largely protect the freedom to worship.
The other prong of religious liberty is “social hostilities,” which Pew defines as “acts of violence and intimidation by private individuals, organizations or social groups.” Repression is different from tension: “Competition and even some degree of tension between religious groups may be natural in free societies, and the freer and more pluralistic the society, the more open and visible the tensions may be.”
Notably, many instances of social hostilities are generated by the activities of other religious groups. States Pew, in more than half of nations “it is religious groups themselves that make attempts to stop other religious groups from growing.” The problem with Islam is pervasive. But in Russia the Orthodox Church targets “religions deemed nontraditional, including other Orthodox Christian congregations.” Conversions are a particular flashpoint.
Roughly four of ten nations suffer from high or very high levels of social hostilities. Nearly half of the world’s people live in countries where hostilities are high or very high. Explains Pew: “Often, the brunt falls on religious minorities who are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a cultural economic or political threat to the majority.”
Interestingly, countries with the worst state policies are not invariably the ones with the greatest social hostilities. Explains Pew: “Only one country, Saudi Arabia, appears on both lists. Several others that are very high in social hostilities also score in the high range on government restrictions,” but some countries with the greatest religious social antagonisms have far fewer official restrictions on religious liberty. The greatest hostilities are evident in Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia.
Here, too, the Middle East and North Africa stands will above the rest of the world. Next come Europe and the Asia-Pacific, where, surprisingly, median social hostilities are roughly equal. Sub-Saharan Africa follows, with the Americas far behind. The median score in the Middle East and North Africa is more than seven times that in the Americas.
Explains Pew: “The relatively higher level of religious hostilities in European societies is driven by widespread instances of anti-Semitism, tensions between Muslim minorities and secular or Christian majorities, and a somewhat general distrust of new religious groups.” In the Americas only Mexico suffers from high levels of social hostilities.
Although as noted earlier there is a significant difference between the worst government offenders and the worst social offenders, countries which tend to persecute one way also often persecute to some degree the other way. Saudi Arabia manages to fall into the very high on both indexes. Among the world’s 50 most populous states rating one very high and one high are 11 other nations: Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan. Smaller hyper-persecutors include Brunei, Eritrea, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.
Clustered as the lowest of the low are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Mozambique, Peru, Poland, South Korea, and Taiwan. (The U.S. rates among the least in government restrictions but edges slightly into the moderate category on social hostilities.)
Overall, notes Pew, “it is apparent that the two measures tend to move together.” While the relationship is loose, countries with higher social hostilities are more likely to have greater government restrictions, and vice versa.
Obviously, social attitudes often are deeply ingrained. Nevertheless, nations with more limited information access tend to rate worse on both persecution measures. This might be correlation — authoritarian governments are more able and likely to persecute — rather than causation. Nevertheless, the finding offers the possibility that expanding information access might help reduce religious persecution.
The U.S. government’s ability to combat religious persecution is limited. Washington can hardly go to war to liberate scores of other nations. Nor is war a good answer: after all, the invasion of Iraq inadvertently loosed that nation’s worst Islamic demons, leading to the effective destruction of Iraq’s once vibrant Christian community.
Nevertheless, Americans should do all they can to highlight religious persecution and aid foreign believers, irrespective of their particular faith, seeking the right to worship God as they believe appropriate. There is no more fundamental human right than freedom of conscience.
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H/T to National Review Online