Pew Report Shows Religious Restrictions Increasing ‘Markedly’ Over 10 Year Span

Here are four notable takeaways from the extensive report.

Women cry during the funeral for those killed in a Palm Sunday church attack in Alexandria Egypt, at the Mar Amina church, Monday, April 10, 2017.

By Liberty McArtor Published on July 17, 2019

Restrictions on religious freedom have “increased markedly around the world.” That’s according to a Pew Research Center report released Monday. Pew annually tracks year-to-year changes in religious freedom around the world. This year’s report looks at all changes between 2007 and 2017.

The report details changes in eight different categories. Four deal with government restrictions, and four with social hostilities.

In 2007, 40 countries had “high or very high levels” of government restriction on religious freedom. By 2017, that number grew to 52 countries.

Social hostilities around the world went from 20 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2017. They include “violence and harassment by private individuals, organizations or groups.”

Here are four notable takeaways from the report.

1. Middle East-North Africa Region (MENA) is Most Problematic

The MENA region already had a high level of religious restrictions in 2007. Now, it’s even higher.

Government favoritism of religion in MENA countries is significant. That’s because 17 of the region’s 20 countries have a state religion. Nineteen of 20 have a favored religion. (Only 43 countries in the report have a state religion. In 27 of those countries, it’s Islam.)

Countries in the MENA region are clamping down on free expression. Only 13 MENA nations had limits on public preaching in 2007. In 2017, 18 countries limited public preaching. But “these types of restrictions are not limited to minority faiths.” Even mosques are being forced under government control.

The report notes the rise of ISIS activity, including deadly attacks on Egyptian houses of worship in 2017.

2. Europe Saw Major Increases in Religious Restrictions

This week, approximately 100 nations gathered at the U.S. State Department for the historic Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. Read Josh Shepherd’s coverage of the event to find out what happened.

Some of the biggest restriction increases occurred in Europe.

Government limits on religious activity increased more in Europe than in other regions. New policies affected “religious dress, public or private worship or religious literature.” The report notes certain European countries restricting the public dress of Muslim women.

Social hostility toward various religions has also increased in Europe. Hostility has been perpetrated by and against a range of religious groups. Pew references instances of hostility toward Muslims and between Muslim sects, toward Jehovah’s Witnesses from Orthodox Christians, and toward Jews from anti-Semites.

3. Christians Harassed Most, Followed by Muslims

Christians are harassed in more countries than any other religious group. In 2017 they were harassed in 143 countries. Muslims were harassed in 140 countries. This is not surprising, since Christianity and Islam are the two most popular religions in the world.

The third most harassed religious group in 2017 was Jews. They were harassed in 87 countries, “despite [their] relatively small population size.”

An other noteworthy observation is the kind of harassment different religious groups are likely to face. According to the report:

Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims experienced harassment by governments in more countries than they did by private individuals or groups. By contrast, Jews have faced more social harassment than government harassment since the baseline year of the study.

4. Religious Restrictions Increase in U.S.

An interactive chart shows how countries’ religious restrictions changed from 2007 to 2017. The United States went from the “low” religious restrictions category to the “moderate” category.

Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic, and Moral Issues of Our Day.

In 2017, the U.S. was among the highest scoring nations in the “individual and social group harassment” category. Pew states this is partly due to the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Participants in the rally brandished swastikas and chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” A study by the Anti-Defamation League also indicated a sharp 60 percent rise in anti-Semitic acts in 2017.

Experts Comment on Findings

On Wednesday, the Pew report authors briefed nonprofit leaders on their findings. The briefing was hosted in tandem with the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

Kristina Arriaga of USCIRF said Pew’s objective research was “key” in enabling organizations to help persecuted religious groups. 

Thomas Farr, president of Religious Freedom Institute, also commented. He praised the annual reports’ transformative effect on the religious freedom conversation. “With the coming of these Pew reports, we now have an evidence-based, fact-based way to talk about a global issue,” he said. 

You can explore the full report here.


Josh Shepherd contributed to this report.

Stream contributor Liberty McArtor is a freelance writer in the great state of Texas, where she lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with her husband and son. Follow Liberty on Twitter @LibertyMcArtor, or learn more about her at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Absolute Surrender
Michelle Cushatt
More from The Stream
Connect with Us