Hostility Against Religion: It’s a Rising Tide
Religion & Liberty Online

Hostility Against Religion: It’s a Rising Tide

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has been studying the steady rise of hostility towards religious expression and religious liberty worldwide. In fact, they found that restrictions on religion rose in every major area of the world, including the United States, since the study began in 2009.

Citing what the Pew Forum calls “social hostilities” (as opposed to government hostilities), the study found that Pakistan, India and Iraq were the most hostile countries to religious freedom.

The Social Hostilities Index (SHI) measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups. This includes mob or sectarian violence, harassment over attire for religious reasons and other religion-related intimidation or abuse.

The United States scored “moderate” on this index, with terrorist attacks on US soil cited as the most prominent reason for this score. However, there are other factors. For example,

Other forms of social hostilities involving religion also increased in the U.S. during the most recent year studied. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., for example, some county residents attempted to block the construction of a mosque in the spring of 2010 by claiming, as reported by the Justice Department, that Islam is a “political ideology rather than a religion” and that “mosques are political rather than religious in nature.”

The study also covers government hostility towards religion, taking into account “government laws, policies and actions that restrict religious beliefs or practices.” Again, the US saw a rise in this type of hostility.

During the period from mid-2009 to mid-2010, a number of the sources used in the study reported an increase in the number of incidents at the state and local level in which members of some religious groups faced restrictions on their ability to practice their faith. This included incidents in which individuals were prevented from wearing certain religious attire or symbols, including beards, in some judicial settings or in prisons, penitentiaries or other correctional facilities. For instance, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that it was pursuing a lawsuit in federal court against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and various California officials on behalf of a Sikh prison inmate who, in March 2010, had been ordered to trim his facial hair in violation of his religious beliefs. The Justice Department said the state’s inmate grooming policy “imposed a substantial burden” on the man’s ability to exercise his faith.

Some religious groups in the U.S. also faced difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools or other religious institutions. For instance, in May 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that the Boulder County Commissioners had discriminated against the Rocky Mountain Christian Church by denying it permits to expand its school and worship facilities even though the commissioners had issued permits to a nearby secular school for a similar expansion.

The religious group that sees the most hostility world-wide? Christians, both in terms of government and social harassment. Muslims were second, and these two religious groups together comprise half the world’s population.

You can view the entire study, “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion” here.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.