Guest speakers included Tony Blair, former U.K. prime minister, patron of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and current Quartet representative to the Middle East; Brian J. Grim, Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center; Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Father Raymond de Souza.
Attending the event were diplomats from more than a dozen nations as well as numerous representatives from the Canadian government and various faith communities.
(1) We live in a world where more than eight-in-ten people follow a religion. And among the 16% who don’t, many of them have some religious beliefs or engage in some religious practices. Because most people have some attachment to religion, it’s important to look at how free people are to make personal decisions about their religion, changing their religion, or having no religion at all.
(2) The findings of my study at the Pew Research Center show that 40% of the world’s countries have high or very high restrictions on religion, but because several of these countries are very populous, about three-quarters (74%) of the world’s population – totaling 5.1 billion people – live with high restrictions.
This study measures 20 different types of government restrictions on religion, and adds them up into a Government Restrictions Index. The more restrictions and the greater their severity, the higher the score. (3) Based on this index, the study finds that almost two-thirds of people live in countries with high or very high government restrictions. Government restrictions include:
- (4) restrictions on the wearing of religious symbols occur in more than a quarter of all countries. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights recently found that British law does not adequately protect an employee’s right to display religious symbols in the workplace – such as wearing a cross.
- (5) imprisonments occur in nearly a third of all countries. In Burma, for instance, Buddhist monks continue to languish in prison cells for their role as clergy in promoting human rights and democracy.
- (6) 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. In practice, these laws are used to prevent Hindus from converting to Islam or Christianity. And when conversions occur, they are sometimes met with hostilities. In a moment, I will talk more about the association of religious restrictions and hostilities.
This study measures 13 different types of social hostilities involving religion, and adds them up into a Social Hostilities Index. The more hostilities and the greater their severity, the higher the score. (7) Based on this index, the study finds that half the world’s people live in countries with high or very high social hostilities related to religion. These include:
- (8) sectarian violence occurs in 17% of countries – that’s more than one-out-of-every-seven countries worldwide. In Iraq, for instance, even though the civil war ended years ago, acts of sectarian violence continue to occur on an almost daily basis.
- (9) religion-related terrorists are active in more than a third of countries worldwide, including recently in France, where a Rabbi and several Jewish school children were gunned down in a brazen act of terror.
- (10) the use of violence to enforce religious norms occurs in a third of countries worldwide. For instance, in Indonesia – where religious belief is required by law – Alexander An was attacked by angry mobs after he declared his non-belief on an Atheist website. And, when police showed up to intervene, rather than arresting the mob, Alexander was arrested on charges of blasphemy. Again, another example of the association between government restrictions and social hostilities.
See Grim's full talk given previously as a TEDx Talk.