1. Religious liberty
1.1. Country rankings of religious liberty
1.2. Public opinion on restrictions of religious liberty
1.3. Legal restrictions of religious liberty
2. Religion and politics
3. Religion and legislation
4. Sharia law
5. Religion and poverty
6. Religion and crime
7. Religion and discrimination
Freedom House makes a country ranking of religious freedom. Here is an example of a graph:
Pew also calculates a ranking of countries’ legal or cultural restrictions on religion:
A rising tide of restrictions on religion spread across the world between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining.
The share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier. (source)
The rising tide of restrictions in the latest year studied is attributable to a variety of factors, including increases in crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias, as well as increased government interference with worship or other religious practices. (source)
There’s a difference between a public’s opinion on the degree of religious liberty it has on the one hand, and the public’s opinion on the need to have religious liberty on the other hand. A public that doesn’t want religious liberty will perhaps also tend not to have it.
Here’s how people perceive their religious liberty: if they have it and if they want it (from the 2003 report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project):
A survey in 2013 found that 78% of Moroccans think that non-Muslims are very free to practice their faith there, and 79% of those think this is “a good thing”. Majorities of Thais (77%) and Pakistanis (84%) also say that other religions are very free to worship (79% and 75% respectively)—and they agree that this is, overwhelmingly, “a good thing” (source).
Here’s how Americans think about a possible move to make Christianity the official religion of the US:
There are other ways of estimating a nation’s attachment to the value of religious liberty. Take for example the controversy a few years ago about the “Ground Zero” mosque. This controversy can be seen as a litmus test for religious freedom in America:
Do you think the Islamic cultural centre and mosque should be built near the World Trade Centre site, or not?
Whether or not you think the Islamic cultural centre and mosque should be built near the World Trade Center site, do you think that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque there?
Which of these statements comes closest to your opinion?
(source; bear in mind that a controversy can distort survey responses taken during or immediately after the controversy)
Another indicator of a nation’s attachment to the value of religious freedom is a public’s opinion about people who change their religion. Here’s an opinion poll showing large majorities among some Muslim populations favoring the death penalty for apostasy:
More worrying than a hostile public opinion are laws restricting religious liberty. Here’s an overview of the number of countries where apostasy, blasphemy or defamation of religion are illegal:
Another example of legal restictions on religious liberty are laws regulating religious dress in public, or the public display of religious symbols in general. In some countries, public officials are not allowed to wear a headscarf, for instance.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life found that regulations on the wearing of religious symbols increased globally between mid-2007 and mid-2010. In mid-2010, religious attire and other symbols were regulated in 57 countries (29%), up from 21 countries (11%) in mid-2009. Regulations increased in places as diverse as France, where the burqa was banned, and Rwanda, where the government prohibited religious headgear in photos for government documents.
Whether or not religion has a role to play in politics is a difficult question. Absolutist interpretations of religious freedom require total religious neutrality of the state and of legislation. Other interpretations allow religiously inspired politics as long as the rights of competing religions or atheists aren’t harmed. More here and here.
This is the way Americans view the role of religion in politics:
And, for comparison, this is the view of Egyptians:
Muslims in different countries have differing views on the role of the Quran in politics:
The issue here is not whether religion can be restricted by way of legislation (see 1.3. above). There’s also this other bone of contention: can there be religiously inspired laws? This problem is of course part of the larger problem of religious liberty (see 1. above): religiously inspired laws – even if they do not directly restrict religious activity or apostasy – seem to impose element of one religion on all citizens, something which is incompatible with religious liberty. Many religious people, however, are particularly eager to use the force of law in order to promote their religion. Their religion may even require of them that they use the force of law to enforce religious precepts. For example, laws against same-sex marriage are often religious in origin. The same is true for laws against adultery etc.
Some possible solutions are here.
An extreme version of religiously inspired legislation is Sharia law. For those promoting Sharia law, the entire system of legislation – rather than particular laws – should ideally conform to religious rules.
These are the countries which apply, to some degree, Sharia law:
Most countries mix Sharia with other legal traditions, or apply Sharia only in some parts of the law, or some regions. There’s even talk of allowing Muslim minorities in western countries to apply Sharia law within their own communities.
Here’s an opinion poll in some Muslim countries on the desirability of Sharia:
Here are the views of Egyptians regarding the question whether laws should follow the Quran (which isn’t the same thing as following Sharia):
Here’s an interesting correlation: the more religious a country, the more poverty there is, or vice versa. Beware the correlation=causation mistake; it could well be that a third variable explains both the level of religiosity and poverty. So, it’s not necessarily the case the countries are poor because they are religious, or that they are religious because they are poor:
The degree to which a country’s citizens believe more strongly in heaven than in hell predicts higher national crime rates. It seems that believing more strongly in the forgiveness of sins than in punishment in the after-life may help pave the way for further transgressions: