Government restrictions on religion at a record high

Government restrictions on religion rose to a record high in 2018, while religion-related social hostilities fell slightly but remained near peak levels, according to Pew Research Center’s 11th annual study of restrictions on religion.

Restrictions by governments include official laws and actions that curtail religious beliefs and practices, while social hostilities encompass everything from religion-related armed conflict to harassment over clothing. The analysis covers policies that were in place and events that occurred in 198 countries and territories in 2018, the most recent year for which data was available.

Asia and the Pacific had the largest increase in government restrictions, while the Middle East and North Africa region continued to have the highest median level of restrictions.

Social hostilities fell slightly in 2018 but remained near the 2017 peak.

Among the 25 most populous countries, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia had the highest overall levels of restrictions involving religion, according to an analysis that combines government restrictions and social hostilities. China had the highest levels of government restrictions, and India had the highest levels of social hostilities – not just among the most populous countries, but among all 198 countries in the study. 

Authoritarian governments are more likely to restrict religion.

Christians and Muslims continue to be harassed in the most countries. Harassment against religious groups, both by governments and individuals or social groups, was reported in 185 out of the 198 countries in 2018. That figure, which includes any country that had at least one incident of harassment reported against a religious group, was down slightly from 187 a year earlier. Christians and Muslims – who make up the largest faith groups globally and are more geographically dispersed than other groups – experienced harassment in the highest number of countries (145 and 139 countries, respectively). Jews are only 0.2% of the global population but were harassed in the third-highest number of countries (88). Religiously unaffiliated people – defined as atheists, agnostics and those who don’t identify with any religion – saw the largest decline in harassment of any group. These “nones” were harassed in 18 countries in 2018, down from 23 countries a year earlier.