The study, released Sept. 20, said that restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010.
“The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31 percent in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37 percent in the year ending in mid-2010,” it said. The Pew study also noted that three-quarters of the world’s 7 billion people live in countries with “high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion.”
While the United States is nowhere near the level of religious restrictions as other countries, a movement does exist toward limiting religious liberty, according to the study.
Two measures were used in the study to gauge changes: government restrictions and social hostility. In both categories, the United States saw an increase of at least one point on a 0 to 10 scale.
On the Government Restrictions Index, there was an increase from 1.6 in mid-2009 to 2.7 in mid-2010, moving the U.S. from the low category to the moderate category for the first time in the four years that the study has been conducted.
According to Catholic News Service, it found 51 cases of governments applying zoning laws or regulations to prevent religious groups from building houses of worship, schools or other facilities and prohibiting religious symbols or attire in prisons. Thirty-one of the 51 instances involved Christian denominations.
On the Social Hostilities Index, there was an increase from 2.0 to 3.4. Acts of religious terrorism were a prime reason this index spiraled upward, moving the U.S. from the lower end of the moderate range of hostilities to the upper range.
Topping all countries in the 10-point scale in social hostilities with a 7.2 or higher were Pakistan, India, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Somalia and Israel.
On the Government Restrictions Index, Egypt topped the list, followed by Indonesia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Eritrea, China and Syria.
In his visit to Lebanon earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI stated that religious freedom around the world must be protected.
“Religious freedom is the basic right on which many rights depend,” he said. “The freedom to profess and practice one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone.”
Taking steps now to defend religious freedom seems to be a worthwhile task, as the U.S. bishops have demonstrated.