WASHINGTON: Restrictions on religion were growing worldwide by mid-2010, even in Western countries with traditionally few limits on the practice of faith, the Pew Research Center said Thursday.
It said three-quarters of the world’s seven billion people lived in countries with either “high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion,” according to data from July 2009 through June 2010.
That’s five per cent higher than a year earlier, said the Washington think tank in an 86-page report from its Forum on Religion and Public Life unit, the third in an ongoing series.
“There were increases in restrictions, even in countries that previously had low or moderate levels of restrictions – including the United States,” it said.
Nevertheless, no Western or Latin American country made Pew’s league tables of countries with either “very high” government restrictions or very high social hostilities, each measured by respective 10-point indices.
Six countries – Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – made both lists.
China, the world’s most populous country, had very high government restrictions, while Pakistan, India, Israel and the Palestinian territories were all deemed to have very high social hostilities, such as harassment or mob violence.
Giving specific examples in the United States, Pew cited efforts in Tennessee to block construction of a mosque and a bid in Oklahoma – later overturned in court – to outlaw Islamic sharia law.
It also cited a spike in religion-related workplace discrimination complaints, as well as “religion-related terrorist attacks” such as the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas by an Muslim-American army major in 1999.
Outside the United States, Pew cited Switzerland’s ban on the building of new minarets on mosques, the shutdown of more than two dozen churches in Indonesia under pressure from Islamist extremists, and violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.
Overall, the report said, “the rising tide of restrictions ... is attributable to a variety of factors, including increases in crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred and bias, as well as increased government interference with worship or other religious practices.”
The report made no mention of atheists and agnostics who face discrimination resulting from their non-belief in any god or faith.