Governments have been cracking down on religious expression more than any other time in recent memory, says a new report on global religious persecution.
The Pew Research Center’s tracking of government restrictions on religion noted a 50% increase in 2018 since the survey’s inauguration in 2007, according to the report published Tuesday.
From outright bans on public worship by Christians and Jews in Qatar to an Australian judge’s refusal to allow a Muslim defendant’s wife to wear a veil in court, the survey documents a year of growing aggression among the world’s governments in disrupting citizens’ religious practices.
The survey singles out countries in the Asia-Pacific and North Africa/Middle East, where several nations receive “high” or “very high” persecution ratings.
Officials in the Philippines forced three United Methodist Church missionaries to leave the country. Authorities in Thailand arrested six Buddhist monks. And Israeli police injured an Ethiopian Christian while removing him from a church.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian government continues to restrict access for Shiite Muslims to a tomb of the Prophet Muhammad’s son, revered by the Sunni majority. The report also cites Myanmar’s displacement of 14,500 Rohingya Muslims and Tajikistan’s increasing control over religious education travel and its continued refusal to recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The report also flags persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, which has confiscated up to $90 million in property from the group.
“Jehovah’s Witnesses in some countries are jailed and even tortured, not for what they have done, but simply for who they are,” said Jarrod Lopes, a spokesman for the faith group. “We hope the respective authorities will soon allow Jehovah’s Witnesses the freedom to peacefully practice their Christian faith, as they do in more than 200 other lands around the world.”
While the U.S. has religious liberty enshrined in its Constitution, the country scored as having “moderate” levels of government restrictions. In one instance, a Pew researcher forwarded to The Washington Times a copy of a D.C. Department of Corrections policy requiring a chaplain to approve an inmate’s request to convert to a new religion.
“For the U.S., there are several examples of restrictions related to religion that people in prison face that get counted,” Pew researcher Samirah Majumdar told The Washington Times.
The U.S. also saw an uptick in a separate rating on social hostilities, citing the 2018 terrorist attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 people, believed to be the largest anti-Semitic assault in U.S. history.
China had the highest persecution score among 198 nations and territories, with the Communist Party’s detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province singled out in the survey.
In October, the Chinese Community Party and the Vatican announced an extension of a 2018 agreement that allowed for formal recognition of Pope Francis’ appointment of Catholic bishops in the country, but it drew criticism from the U.S. Senate.
“We encourage you to use this mutually desired outcome to express to the CCP your concern about the treatment of religious minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere,” Sens. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, and Todd Young, Indiana Republican, said in a letter to Pope Francis.
It’s unclear what presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden would do with respect to religious liberty in foreign policy, though his campaign literature notes the “alarming pattern of increased, and increasingly dangerous” prejudice against Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Sikh faith communities.
President Trump has made religious liberty a hallmark of his administration. In September, the Trump administration helped broker an agreement among Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to normalize relations.