Restrictions on Religion

The UK’s reputation as a land of religious liberty and toleration seems set to take a bit of a knock following the publication on 9 August 2011 of Rising Restrictions on Religion by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. The work was commissioned as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project, with Brian Grim as the principal researcher.

The report, the second in a series, is the outcome of desk-based research from 18 published primary sources. It seeks to measure, on a points-based system, the incidence of restrictions on religious beliefs and practices in 198 countries between mid-2006 and mid-2009. Data are recorded for a Government Restrictions Index (GRI) and a Social Hostilities Index (SHI). Inevitably, the scoring cannot eliminate a degree of subjectivity.

On the GRI the UK’s overall score rose from 2.2 for the two-year period ending mid-2008 to 2.8 in mid-2009. This was assessed as a moderate score on the fourfold categorization used by Pew (very high embracing the top 5% of country scores, high the next 15%, moderate the next 20%, and low the bottom 60%). Of the specific measures comprising the GRI, 7 had increased in the UK between the two reference dates, 14 were unchanged, and 7 had decreased.

On the SHI the UK’s overall score moved from 2.5 for the period ending mid-2008 to 3.6 in mid-2009. This was assessed as a high score. Seven UK measures rose between the two dates, 11 were unchanged, and 1 had fallen. The UK was one of five European nations (the others being Bulgaria, Denmark, Russia, and Sweden) which experienced a substantial rise in the SHI. In the UK’s case, this is largely attributed by Pew to mounting Islamophobia and anti-Semitism (the latter in response to Israel’s military intervention in Gaza early in 2009).

Overall, combining the GRI and SHI, Pew discovered that restrictions on religion had grown in 23 of the world’s 198 countries (12%), decreased in 12 (6%), and remained essentially unchanged in 163 (82%). Among the 25 most populous nations – which account for three-quarters of the global population – restrictions on religion substantially increased in eight, including the UK. In China, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and the UK the increases were primarily due to movements in the SHI, whereas in Egypt and France they were the consequence of the GRI.

The main report and the detailed country report on this research are available to download at:

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