The freedom to worship is on the decline in many countries.
The sobering news comes from Pew, a think-tank, that evaluates obstacles to the observance of religion in two dimensions, based on the text of countries’ constitutions and on reports by governments and human-rights groups.
Pew researchers measured laws and policies that limit religious beliefs in a government-restrictions index, and violence and other intimidation from the public at large in a social-hostilities index.
The study found that the overall level of restrictions on religion is surprisingly elevated: it lists the threat as “high” or “very high” in fully one-quarter of the 198 nations assessed. Moreover, the situation appears to be getting worse: both the government and social indicators show that religious freedom deteriorated in 2015—the latest year for which data are available—for the first time in three years.
State restrictions on freedom of worship are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa, where Islam is dominant. In that region, 95% of governments engage in harassment and the use of force against non-islamic religious groups, with Egypt’s policies the sternest of all.
The increase in the social-hostilities index largely reflects rises in mob violence. In India the government counted 561 incidents of religiously motivated physical conflict during the first ten months of 2015, which resulted in 90 deaths and more than 1,600 injuries.