Nearly two-thirds of the world's people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion. Government restrictions range from limits on religious symbols, which occur in about a quarter of all countries, to very high government favoritism of one religion or religious group above all others. The study finds that, on average, social hostilities involving religion are 3.5 times higher in countries with very high government favoritism of religion than in countries with low levels of favoritism.
Government restrictions can also cross borders and be enforced by governments thousands of miles away, as was the case when Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was extradited by Malaysian authorities to Saudi Arabia to face charges of blasphemy, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.
The Pew Research study also finds that about half of the world's population lives in countries with high social hostilities. Social hostilities include religion-related terrorist activities, which occur in more than a third of countries - allegedly including the recent bombings in Boston.
Government restrictions on converting from one religion to another occur in about a quarter of countries. For example, five of India’s 28 states have anti-conversions laws to prevent coerced or unethical conversions. In practice, however, these laws are used to prevent Hindus from converting to Islam or Christianity. And when conversions occur, they are sometimes met with hostilities. The research I have done finds a clear association between religious restrictions and religious hostilities.
For instance, The Price of Freedom Denied, shows that, contrary to popular opinion, ensuring religious freedom for all reduces violent religious persecution and conflict. Others have suggested that restrictions on religion are necessary to maintain order or preserve a peaceful religious homogeneity. This book shows that restricting religious freedoms is associated with higher levels of violent persecution. (See p. 148 for discussion on anti-conversion laws.)
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