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Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion increased in 2015 for the first time in three years, according to Pew Research Center’s latest annual study on global restrictions on religion.
The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – i.e., laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices – ticked up from 24% in 2014 to 25% in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities – i.e., acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society – increased in 2015, from 23% to 27%. Both of these increases follow two years of declines in the percentage of countries with high levels of restrictions on religion by these measures.
When looking at overall levels of restrictions in 2015 – whether resulting from government policies and actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – the new study finds that 40% of countries had high or very high levels of restrictions, up from 34% in 2014.
In addition to a rise in the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion, religious restrictions also rose in 2015 by other measures. For example, more countries saw their scores on the Government Restrictions Index (based on 20 indicators of government restrictions on religion) increase rather than decrease. And the global median score on the Social Hostilities Index, based on 13 measures of social hostilities involving religion, ticked up in 2015.
The global rise in social hostilities reflected a number of factors, including increases in mob violence related to religion, individuals being assaulted or displaced due to their faith, and incidents where violence was used to enforce religious norms. In Europe, for instance, there were 17 countries where incidents of religion-related mob violence were reported in 2015, up from nine the previous year. And sub-Saharan Africa saw a spread in violence used to enforce religious norms, such as the targeting of people with albinism for rituals by witch doctors. This type of hostility was reported in 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, up from nine countries in 2014.
The increase in government restrictions was linked to a surge in government harassment and use of force against religious groups, two of the specific indicators used to measure government restrictions on religion in the analysis. Four of the five geographic regions analyzed in this report – the Middle East and North Africa, Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe – saw increases in these two areas.
Of the 198 countries in the study, 105 (53%) experienced widespread government harassment of religious groups, up from 85 (43%) in 2014 and 96 (48%) in 2013. Limited harassment – cases that were isolated or affected a small number of groups – also rose, taking place in 52 countries (26%) in 2015 (up from 44, or 22% of countries, in 2014).
Government use of force against religious groups increased as well, with 23 countries (12%) experiencing more than 200 cases of government force in 2015, up from 21 (11%) in 2014. There was an even bigger increase in the number of countries with at least one, but no more than 200 incidents of government use of force against religious groups: 83 nations (42%) fell into this category in 2015, an increase from 60 countries (30%) in 2014.
This report was produced by Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation. This is the eighth time Pew Research Center has measured restrictions on religion around the globe.
The read the full findings of this study, click here.