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ASR News. New Pew Study.

Gov’t restrictions on religion worldwide set record high in annual Pew study

By Samuel Smith,

Newly released data from an ongoing Pew Research Center study shows that government restrictions on religion around the world have risen to a record level amid increases in government restrictions on religion in Asia and Pacific countries, most notably. 

The nonpartisan polling organization published on Tuesday results from its 11th annual study of restrictions on religion. The series of annual reports are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project and analyze the extent that societies worldwide infringe on religious beliefs and practices.

The most recent data available is from 2018 through a study that rates 198 countries and territories by the levels of government restrictions on religion and also the levels of social hostilities toward religion in those countries. All the studies over the last decade-plus have been based on the same 10-point index. 

“In 2018, the global median level of government restrictions on religion — that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that impinge on religious beliefs and practices — continued to climb, reaching an all-time high since Pew Research Center began tracking these trends in 2007,” the authors of the new report wrote. 

The report was authored by Pew Research Associate Samirah Majumdar and Pew Director of Religion Research Virginia Villa.

The study’s government restrictions index (GRI) measures laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The GRI features 20 measures of restrictions that include anything from efforts by governments to ban particular faiths to prohibiting conversion and providing preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. 

Pew researchers combed through more than 12 publicly available and widely cited sources of information, such as the U.S. State Department’s annual reports on international religious freedom as well as annual reports from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Also, researchers referred to reports from several European and United Nations bodies. They also combed through reports from “several independent, nongovernmental organizations.”

According to Pew, the increase from 2017 to 2018 was “relatively modest” but did help contribute to the “substantial rise in government restrictions on religion over more than a decade.”

“In 2007, the first year of the study, the global median score on the Government Restrictions Index was 1.8,” the report adds. “After some fluctuation in the early years, the median score has risen steadily since 2011 and now stands at 2.9 for 2018, the most recent full year for which data is available.”

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