Government restrictions on religion were at an all-time high in 2019, according to a report published by Pew Research Center this fall, while social hostility toward religion declined.

A Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and a Social Hostilities Index (SHI) were created by Pew in the mid-2000s to determine which religious groups face hindrances to the free expression of their faith from both government and society. This is the 12th annual report.

There were 57 nations (29% of the 198 assessed) in which there were “high” (34) or “very high” (23) levels of government restriction on religion in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

Most of the countries receiving these ratings were either in the Asia-Pacific region (25 nations) or in the Middle East-North Africa region (19 nations).

The total is one nation higher than the 2018 data published in early Nov. 2020, it matches the all-time high first set in 2012, and it is the second year in a row that government restrictions have increased.

“Governments in more than 80% of the countries in each of the study’s five regions harassed religious groups in some way, including all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region and 44 of 45 in Europe (98% of countries in the region),” the report said. “In sub-Saharan Africa, 90% of the region’s 48 countries had such incidents, followed by 89% of the 35 countries in the Americas and 84% of countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Despite the all-time high levels of government restriction, there was a 10-nation decline to 43 countries with “high” (35) or “very high” (8) levels of social hostility toward religion from 2018 to 2019.

This is 12 countries below the all-time high of 33 nations in 2012, it is the lowest level since 2014 when 53 nations had “high” or “very” high social hostility levels, and it is the second year in a row for the numbers to decline.

A mid-November analysis by Pew of the GRI data revealed that 41 nations had official government bans on at least one religious group in 2019, with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Bahais being the most often banned faith traditions.

This analysis also found that the Asia-Pacific region had the highest number of countries with bans on one or more religious groups (17), while the Middle East had the highest percentage of nations with such a ban (55%).

The GRI and SHI indices use a series of questions to assess the level of government restriction and social hostility, with a rating provided to each nation based on a 10-point scale. Higher scores indicate higher levels of restriction and hostility.

Among the 20 GRI questions are: “Does the constitution or basic law include stipulations that appear to qualify or substantially contradict the concept of ‘religious freedom’?” and “Is public preaching by religious groups limited by any level of government?”

The 13 SHI questions include: “Were there crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias?” and “Did organized groups use force or coercion in an attempt to dominate public life with their perspective on religion, including preventing some religious groups from operating in the country?”

The full report is available here.

The government restrictions index is available here, the social hostilities index is available here, and the methodology is available here.

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