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One of the consistent takeaways from a decade of tracking is the relatively high level of government restrictions on religion in the Middle East and North Africa MENA , which has ranked above all other regions each year from to The new study shows that the Middle East has high levels of restrictions across all four categories in , but the gap in government favoritism is particularly large: The average country in the MENA region scores nearly twice as high on measures of government favoritism as the average country in any other region.

Indeed, 19 of the 20 countries in the Middle East all except Lebanon favor a religion — 17 have an official state religion, and two have a preferred or favored religion. Additionally, all countries in the region defer in some way to religious authorities or doctrines on legal issues. However, when one spouse is Muslim and the other has a different religion such as Coptic Christianity , or if spouses are members of different Christian denominations, courts defer to Islamic family law. However, government favoritism has barely increased in the Middle East over the course of the study, partly because it started at such a high level that there was not much room for growth on the scale.

In the other four major geographic regions, meanwhile, there have been notable increases in the levels of government favoritism of religious groups. Some of the largest increases occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, in , Comoros passed a constitutional referendum that declared Islam the state religion. In the Asia-Pacific region, government favoritism of particular religious groups also has increased since For instance, in Turkey, the government passed a law in giving Muslim religious authorities at the province and district level the authority to register marriages and officiate at weddings on behalf of the state.

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Most countries with the highest scores in government favoritism as of including Afghanistan, Bahrain and Bangladesh have Islam as their official state religion. In Greece, Iceland and the United Kingdom, different Christian denominations are the official state religions. At the country level, one of the largest increases since in the favoritism category occurred in the Pacific island nation of Samoa.

In , the Samoan government began to enforce a education policy that makes Christian instruction mandatory in public primary schools. Again, the Middle East-North Africa region has higher levels of these restrictions than other regions, although after an initial rise from to , the overall level of government laws and policies restricting religious freedom has been relatively stable in the MENA region as a whole.

Other regions have seen recent increases in restrictions in this category — particularly sub-Saharan Africa, which experienced a sharp rise in government laws and policies restricting religious freedom between and Rules on government registration of religious groups contributed heavily to the high scores in this category across all regions. Many countries require some form of registration for religious groups to operate, and at least four-in-ten countries in the Americas and more than half the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe had a registration process in that, at a minimum, adversely affected the ability of some groups to carry out their religious activities.

In the Middle East and North Africa, this was the case in more than eight-in-ten countries. In some cases, governments recognize only a specific set of religious groups and deny registration and, hence, official recognition to all others. Elsewhere, bureaucratic hurdles create cumbersome registration processes that disadvantage particular groups.

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For example, in Eritrea, the government recognizes and registers only four religious groups — the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea — and since no other groups have been registered or allowed to perform religious activities and services. The countries with the highest scores in the category of laws and policies restricting religious freedom are spread across Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

In China, for example, only certain religious groups are allowed to register with the government and hold worship services. However, there were reports that the Chinese government arrested, tortured and physically abused members of both registered and unregistered religious groups. It is also illegal for Muslims to convert to another religion.

Since , Hungary has experienced a large increase in its score in this category. A new law in changed the registration process for religious groups and effectively deregistered more than groups, adversely affecting their finances and ability to offer charitable social services. There has been a bigger increase in government limits on religious activities — such as restrictions on religious dress, public or private worship or religious literature — in Europe than in any other region during the course of the study.

A growing number of European countries have placed restrictions on religious dress, with regulations that can range from prohibitions on wearing religious symbols or clothing in photographs for official documents or in public service jobs to national bans on religious dress in public places. In , five countries were reported to have such restrictions in Europe, but by , that number had increased to 20 countries. The number of European governments that interfered in worship or other religious practices also has been on the rise since In Moldova, for example, several local councils in banned Muslim worship in public.

In Germany, a district court ruling in Cologne in criminalized male circumcision for nonmedical reasons, classifying it as assault. Following complaints, the federal government introduced a new law later in the year to address the concerns of both Muslims and Jews by allowing the practice for religious reasons.


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Government limits on religious activities also have increased markedly in the Americas, where the number of countries where governments interfered with worship rose from 16 in to 28 in In Canada, for example, the Supreme Court denied constitutional protection to a territory of spiritual significance to the indigenous Ktunaxa Nation in The Ktunaxa Nation had in sought a judicial review of a decision to approve the construction of a ski resort on land that was central to their faith, claiming it would impinge on their religious practices and violate their religious freedom.

In other regions, too, government limits on religious activities have risen over the course of the study. This includes the Middle East-North Africa region. For instance, limits on public preaching have increased notably since , when 13 countries were reported to have such restrictions. In , 18 out of 20 countries in the region reportedly limited public preaching. These types of restrictions are not limited to minority faiths.

In Jordan, for example, the government monitored sermons at mosques and required preachers to abstain from talking about politics to avoid social and political unrest and to counter extremist views.

Highlights

The Jordanian government began distributing themes and recommended texts for sermons to imams at mosques in , and those who did not follow the recommendations were subject to fines and preaching bans. Additionally, in sub-Saharan Africa, the government has increasingly regulated the wearing of religious clothing. In , four countries — Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of Congo and Niger — banned Islamic veils for women in response to terror attacks within their borders. Among the countries with the highest levels of limits on religion, myriad policies restricting religious activities are enforced.

In the Maldives, for example, it is a criminal offense to promote a religion other than Islam, punishable by up to five years in jail. Restrictions in this category also are common across Central Asia. As of , the government in Turkmenistan continued to deny visas to foreigners if they were suspected of intending to do missionary work; the government also prevented the importation of religious literature. Spain has experienced some of the largest increases in its score for government limits on religious activities since In , several cities in Catalonia introduced bans on the burqa and niqab full-body and head coverings as well as face-covering veils in public buildings.

Not only are there higher levels of government harassment of religious groups in the Middle East-North Africa region compared with other regions, but MENA also has experienced the biggest increase in this category since the baseline year. This category measures types of harassment ranging from violence and intimidation to verbal denunciations of religious groups and formal bans on certain groups. An increasing number of governments in MENA have reportedly used force against religious groups including detention and forced displacement since In Algeria, for example, more than Ahmadis were prosecuted due to their religious beliefs in The Asia-Pacific region also stands out as relatively high in this category.

In , there were numerous reports of large-scale abuses against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority in the country. The military reportedly carried out extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and restrictions on religious practice, which contributed to large-scale displacement. There also were reports that Rohingya were denied citizenship.

Harassment also increased in Europe and Americas since the baseline year of the study, particularly between and Some incidents of government harassment — which can include derogatory statements and intimidation by public officials — were in response to record numbers of migrants entering Europe in In the Americas, the sharpest increase in the government harassment category occurred between and That year, there was at least limited harassment in 32 countries, compared with 28 countries in In Cuba, for instance, members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom reportedly were threatened by the government.

When it comes to increases since in this category, Bahrain stands out. Anti-government protests that began in took on a sectarian dimension, with the Sunni government targeting mostly Shiite opposition protesters and religious leaders. Authorities cut off access to the village, used live ammunition to clear the area and killed five civilians, injured many others, and arrested nearly people. The SHI includes 13 measures of social hostilities, grouped into the following categories:.

Social hostilities involving religion have been consistently high in the Middle East-North Africa region compared with other regions throughout the length of the study. This is true across all four subcategories of social hostilities. But social hostilities in MENA have been relatively stable between and Meanwhile, the largest increase in the category of social hostilities related to religious norms — and, in fact, in any category — occurred in Europe.

In , just four European countries were reported to have individuals or groups who used violence, or threat of violence, to try to force others to accept their own religious practices and beliefs; by , it had risen to 15 countries. There also was an increase in assaults on individuals for religious expression considered offensive or threatening to the majority faith. In , six European countries were reported to have such hostilities; by , that number had climbed to 25 out of a total of 45 countries in Europe. And in a separate incident, a Muslim woman was attacked by two women who took off her veil and verbally abused her for being Muslim.

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In sub-Saharan Africa, hostilities related to religious norms also have risen since the baseline year of the study. In , incidents of violence used to enforce religious norms were reported in eight countries, while in , 31 out of 48 countries in the region experienced this type of hostility. In Burkina Faso, for example, armed men entered classrooms in multiple schools and threatened to kill teachers if they did not teach the Quran to their students.

In , there were reports of attacks on people accused of practicing witchcraft in five countries — Angola, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Liberia and South Africa. Since , there also has been an increase in hostilities over conversions in the region. In , five countries in sub-Saharan Africa experienced such hostilities; by , that number doubled, to 10 countries.

In Djibouti, for instance, Christian groups reported that Christian converts faced discrimination in employment and education. Several Western European countries rank among those with the highest scores in the category of social hostilities related to religious norms. In Germany, for instance, one sociologist estimated that there were thousands of conversions to Christianity — more than during all of the previous 50 years — linked to the rising number of refugees. Germany and Uganda had some of the largest increases in social hostilities related to religious norms.

In Uganda, for example, Christians were beaten and three were killed for religious reasons in Muslim-majority areas in Interreligious tension and violence involves acts of sectarian or communal violence between religious groups. Such tensions can carry over from year to year, and are not necessarily reciprocal. Interreligious tension and violence was the most common type of social hostility in the early years of the study. In the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Middle East-North Africa regions, the specific measure of tensions that involved numerous cases of physical violence between religious groups dropped in recent years in at least some countries.

This may be in part due to Salafists being closely monitored and restricted by the government after the deadly Bardo Museum attacks in Still, in , more than half of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, and more than eight-in-ten countries in the Middle East-North Africa region, experienced some kind of communal tension between religious groups.

Communal violence has long been common in India, which continued to score high in this category in There also were tensions between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria — the most populous country in Africa, and one that is almost evenly divided between the two religious groups. For example, Muslim herders carried out retaliatory attacks against Christian farmers after herders said they did not receive justice when the farmers killed members of the herding community and stole their cattle.

Despite a modest decline in overall interreligious tensions since , there were still some notable increases in this category, particularly in Syria and Ukraine. Syria has been experiencing a civil war since that has had a large sectarian component, with violence between religious groups reported throughout the conflict.

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Religious violence by organized groups includes the actions of religion-related terrorist groups, religion-related conflict, and the use of force by organized groups to dominate public life with their perspective on religion. Since , the largest increases in this category of social hostilities have occurred in Europe and the Middle East-North Africa region. As in all other categories of government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion, the Middle East and North Africa has seen the highest levels of religious violence by organized groups.

Over the years, the actions of religion-related terrorist groups have increased especially sharply in this region. In , four countries in this study were recorded as having more than 50 injuries or deaths from religion-related terrorism incidents. By , that figure climbed to 11 of the 20 countries in the region.

These include deadly attacks in Egypt in , when armed gunmen carrying the ISIS flag attacked a Sufi mosque in northern Sinai, leaving dead. And on Palm Sunday, suicide bombings at two Coptic churches in the country — which ISIS claimed responsibility for — left 45 people dead. In Europe, meanwhile, organized groups have increasingly used force or coercion in an attempt to dominate public life with their perspective on religion.

In the baseline year of the study, this type of hostility was reported at the local, regional or national level in a total of 21 European countries. By , that figure had risen to 33 countries. For example, in Finland, the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi group, published anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material and organized small-scale training camps and rallies. In September, roughly supporters of the group marched through the city of Gothenburg on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, clashing with police and thousands of counterdemonstrators.

Many of the countries with high levels of religious violence by organized groups have active Islamist militant groups within their borders.