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Global restrictions on religion increasing, study says

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Government restrictions on religion continued to increase in 2016, according to a survey released by the Pew Research Center. This is the second year in a row to see an increase in the overall restrictions on religion in the 198 countries examined, which is 99.5 per cent of the world.

“In total in 2016, 83 countries (42 per cent) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion – whether resulting from government actions or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – up from 80 (40 per cent) in 2015 and 58 (29 per cent) in 2007,” said Pew in an analysis of the results.

This is the largest number of countries to be placed in the top category since Pew first created the survey in 2007.

The survey separately analyzed each country’s religious persecution from the government and private individuals. While the Middle East and North Africa had the highest median levels of governmental restrictions, Europe and the Americas were the only areas with an increase in median levels of social religious hostility.

The study also acknowledged the role of nationalist groups in hostility towards religion. About 11 per cent of countries have government officials who used “nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries,” which was a 5 per cent increase from the last year. Europe had the highest percentage of countries falling under this category.

The study said that the nationalist groups sought to lessen or eliminate immigration from a minority religious or ethnic group that they saw as a threat.

The results came from an analysis of laws in addition to individual or group violence against religion such as armed conflict or terrorism. Harassment was measured through data regarding attacks, arrests, destruction of church property and discrimination.

2016 is the most recent year that data was ready to be analyzed.