Government restrictions on religion are at a global high. Social hostility toward religion, however, is at its lowest level worldwide since ISIS. So says data analysed by the Pew Research Centre in its 12th annual measurement of the extent to which 198 nations and territories—and their citizens—impinge on religious belief and practice.
The 2021 report, released on September 30, draws primarily from more than a dozen UN, US, European, and civil society sources, and reflects pre-pandemic conditions from 2019, the latest year with available data.
Matching a peak from 2012, 57 nations (29%) record “very high” or “high” levels of government restrictions—an uptick of one nation from 2018. The global median on Pew’s 10-point scale held steady at 2.9, after a steady rise since the baseline of 1.8 in 2007, the report’s first year measured.
Regional differences are apparent: The Middle East and North Africa scored 6.0; Asia-Pacific scored 4.1; Europe scored 2.9; Sub-Saharan Africa scored 2.6; and the Americas scored 2.0.
But across the globe, restrictions are present. Most common, according to Pew, is “government harassment of religious groups”. More than 9 in 10 nations (180 total) tallied at least one incident. Also common is “government interference in worship”. More than 8 in 10 nations (163 total) recorded incidents.
And nearly half (48%) of all nations used force against religious groups. China, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Sudan, and Syria tallied over 10,000 incidents each.
For example, Pew noted: “Renewed fighting between the military and armed ethnic organizations in the [Myanmar] states of Kachin and northern Shan ‘deeply impacted’ Christians, according to USCIRF. In 2019, thousands were displaced—including many Christians—in addition to more than 120,000 Rohingya who already had been internally displaced, and the military damaged over 300 churches.”
Pew noted that due to the inability of independent observers to have regular access, North Korea has not been included in the report. Also not included are two new measures among the 20 in Pew’s Government Restrictions Index, in order to maintain continuity with previous reports.
“Social hostilities declined in 2019 partly due to a decrease in reports of terrorism, mob violence, and hostilities against proselytizing,” said Samirah Majumdar, the report’s lead researcher.