Pew Research Finds That Religious Persecution is Getting Worse All Over the World, Especially for Christians

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Good Friday in New Delhi, India.

Ahead of a US State Department gathering being touted as “the biggest religious freedom event ever,” a new report showcases how persecution is getting worse—especially for Christians, the most-harassed religious group in the world—and becoming more widespread.

Hostility against religious minorities spans longstanding hotspots in the Middle East and North Africa to Western contexts in Europe and the Americas, according to a comprehensive analysis released today from the Pew Research Center.

Christians endured more pushback than any other religious group each year from 2007 to 2017, when they faced harassment in 143 countries (that’s one fewer than in 2016, but markedly higher than before), researchers found.

This week, Sam Brownback, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has organized the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, a summit in Washington to strengthen international commitments to religious freedom.

“There is no common theology in this discussion, but it is towards a common human right,” Brownback said of the event, which is expected to draw up to 1,000 religious and civil society leaders from around the world. “And that human right is that everybody is entitled to be able to practice their faith peacefully and without fear.”

The recent Pew release builds on earlier reports that looked at year-over-year changeand offers a decade-long picture of religious freedom’s global decline—and the need for greater political action to curb the trend.

Image: Pew Research Center
Christians remain the largest and most harassed faith community, but Muslims are not far behind, with reports of political or social oppression in 140 countries in 2017. Jews, the third-most targeted group, were persecuted in 87 countries, despite having a disproportionately smaller population (14 million) than Christianity (2.3 billion) and Islam (1.8 billion).
The religiously unaffiliated actually saw the largest rise in harassment over the period of the study, hitting a 10-year high in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available.
“Over the decade from 2007 to 2017, government restrictions on religion—laws, policies and actions by state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices—increased markedly around the world,” stated the researchers. “And social hostilities involving religion—including violence and harassment by private individuals, organizations or groups—also have risen since 2007.”

The most recent data indicate that 52 governments, more than 1 in 4, imposed “high” or “very high” levels of religious restrictions two years ago, up from 40 in 2007. The highest levels of social hostility involving religion were reported in 56 countries by the end of the study, up from 39 at the start.

Big countries like China, Indonesia, and Russia are some of the worst offenders. And Christians are the biggest target.

By the end of the study, China, for instance, had boosted efforts to detain and deport Christian missionaries. And in just the last year, reports from the State Department, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the World Watch List have called out China’s dimming record as a violator of religious freedom, citing everything from the shuttering of hundreds of churches and a ban on buying Bibles online to the detainment of up to 2 million Uighur Muslims.

Religious restrictions are rising everywhere, but fastest in Europe

The Pew report uses two 10-point indices to gauge levels of religious repression, one of which measures government restrictions and the other social hostilities. Both metrics are further divided into four categories for a total of eight measuring sticks for religious freedom.

Besides “interreligious tension and violence,” all other measures spiked between 2007 and 2017.

The biggest rise comes in the category of “hostilities related to religious norms,” which refers to harassment and antagonism around things like women not abiding by religious dress codes.

Religious freedom violations are most severe in the Middle East and North Africa, but restrictions and harassment are climbing everywhere. Europe saw the biggest jump in restrictions, with its score doubling over the decade of the study.

Legal limits on religious activities, like efforts to restrict proselytizing and male circumcision, are up dramatically in the continent. In 2007, five countries in Europe had restrictions on things like religious dress and religious symbols. Ten years later, 20 European countries had codified such restrictions.

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Source: Christianity Today