The COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted the world, affecting everyone in many different ways.
With the world in shut-down, our way of life as we knew it was put on pause as more and more restrictions were put in place in an attempt to lessen the spread of COVID-19, a deadly virus. These restrictions impacted churches, mosques and other sacred spaces as religious people were not allowed to gather in the same numbers as they had before.
On November 29, Pew Research Center published a report titled, “How COVID-19 Restrictions Affected Religious Groups Around the World in 2020,” showing how these kinds of government restrictions have impacted religious groups and their sacred spaces specifically.
At the beginning of the pandemic, local gatherings were restricted to limit the possibility of more cases. This also included religious gatherings, to the dismay and indignation of many people. While many submitted to the new mandates grudgingly, many others showed defiance in both subtle and blatant ways.
In Bangladesh, thousands of people gathered to pay respects to an influential Islamic preacher even though the family made an agreement with the police to keep the service attendance to 50 people or less.
A pastor in Louisiana held services, ignoring stay-at-home mandates because they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”
In Australia, Jewish worshipers met for prayer in a private courtyard in Melbourne, disregarding the national ban on worship gatherings.
In order to enforce mandates and ensure compliance, governments in certain countries utilized forcible means to enforce restrictions. Pew’s research shows that 23% of countries and territories used force, such as arrests and prison sentences, to enforce public health mandates.
Some government entities even went as far as to blame certain religious groups for the outbreak of COVID-19. This led to discrimination and unequal treatment.
Many people filed lawsuits, saying that certain houses of faith were being treated differently compared to other secular gatherings or even other religions.
In Pakistan, Shiite Muslims of Hazara returning from their pilgrimage to Iran were “scapegoated” and blamed for spreading the virus by Balochistan officials. In Cambodia, where the population is mostly Buddhist, Muslims were given a separate infection rate.
Even individuals outside of the government domain blamed religious groups for the spread of COVID-19 and committed acts of violence against them.
Reports of these occurrences stretch across the globe spanning, “12 countries in the Americas (34% of countries in the region), 20 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (40%), 20 countries in Europe (44%), 7 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region (35%) and 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (31%).”
There have been also antisemetic incidents. In France, people asserted on social media that Jews were to blame for the pandemic. A man was arrested in Morocco for posting statements accusing a Jewish citizen and a foreign national of spreading the virus.
Christians were the scapegoat in other nations. Such as in Turkey, where an Armenian church door was set on fire by people who believe that Armenian Christians brought the coronavirus to Turkey.
This kind of treatment is grossly unfair, especially considering that Pew estimates that 47% of religious leaders actively promoted and implemented preventive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 within their circles by social distancing, wearing masks and offering online services. There are even news articles indicating that in 55 countries religious groups and governments collaborated together against the pandemic.
Recent statistics show that “the global median level of government restrictions on religion fell slightly, from 2.9 in 2019 to 2.8 in 2020 on the 10-point Government Restrictions Index (GRI). While the year-to-year change was relatively minor, scores on the GRI remain substantially higher than they were in the first year of the study, 2007, when the global median score stood at 1.8.”
Also, the median score of the Social Hostilities Index, or SHI, rose from 1.7 in 2019 to 1.8 in 2020. SHI measures aggressive incidents against religious groups committed by individuals and organizations.
Overall, 39% of countries worldwide have high levels of either government restrictions or social hostilities toward religion. While these statistics are not necessarily overwhelming, they do show significant evidence that religious groups have been targeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the world recovers and COVID-19 cases diminish, hopefully these cases of government hostility and social discrimination decrease along with it.
A rising junior at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Murrell is an accounting major with a developing interest in the media industry and the diverse areas surrounding it. She was an Ernest C. Hynds Jr. intern during the fall 2022 semester.