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Government restrictions on religion in 2019 matched an all-time high from 2012, with 29% of the countries analyzed having “high” or “very high” levels of restrictions, according to a Pew Research Center report published Sept. 30.

In its 12th annual report, Pew found that 57 of the 198 nations analyzed had high levels of “official laws, policies and actions that impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” This is a one country, and 1%, increase from 2018, and a 10-nation (5%) rise from a decade ago.

Despite the all-time high in government restrictions, social hostility declined, with 43 countries (22%) having high / very high social hostility. This is a 10-nation, and 5%, drop from 2018. The all-time high for social hostilities was in 2012 when 65 countries (33%) had high / very high levels.

“Looking at government restrictions and social hostilities together, 75 countries (38% of those included in the study) had ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of overall restrictions on religion in 2019, down from 80 countries (40%) in 2018,” the report said.

Pew uses a Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and a Social Hostilities Index (SHI) that it created to look at how faith groups face restrictions on their free expression of religion from both government entities and society at large.

These indexes pose a series of questions to create a score for each nation on a 10-point scale, with higher scores indicating more significant levels of restriction and hostility.

GRI questions include, “Do all religious groups receive the same level of government access and privileges?” “Is religious education required in public schools?” and “Does the national government defer in some way to religious authorities, texts or doctrines on legal issues?”

SHI questions include, “Were there crimes, malicious acts or violence motivated by religious hatred or bias?” “Did violence result from tensions between religious groups?” and “Did individuals or groups use violence or the threat of violence, including so-called honor killings, to try to enforce religious norms?”

Government harassment of religious groups – which includes official policies, physical coercion and public statements – took place in 180 countries (91%), while interference in worship occurred in 163 (82%) and use of force in 96 nations (48%).

There were 23 countries with very high government restrictions (the full list of countries and their rating is available here), while eight countries had very high social hostility (the full list is available here).

The methodology statement is available here. The full report is available here.

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