WASHINGTON (BP) -- Practicing a religious belief in nearly one-third of the world's countries is increasingly difficult due to government restrictions and public hostilities, according to new data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The Pew study found a 32 percent increase in governmental restrictions and public hostilities from 2006-09 in the 198 countries of the world. Among its finding, the survey showed religious restrictions:
- increased 12 percent in 23 countries.
- decreased 6 percent in 12 countries.
- remained unchanged in 163 countries.
"Among the world's 25 most populous countries -- which account for about 75 percent of the world's population -- restriction on religions substantially increased in eight countries and did not substantially decrease in any," according to the Pew study, which was presented at an International Religious Freedom Roundtable event on Capitol Hill in late March.
Worldwide, about 1 percent of all people live in a country where hostilities decreased.
Many governments have religious freedom wording in their constitutions, but not all provide such protections, the Pew study noted. Religious liberty language is in the constitutions of all 198 countries and in the basic laws of 143 countries. Yet, 111 countries -- or 56 percent -- have statements in their constitutions or basic laws that contradict religious freedom.
And, even though countries have these laws, "not all governments fully respect the religious rights written into their laws," the study noted.
Nigeria has become a case in point.
The Islamic extremist sect Boko Haram "started in 1995 with a stringent ideology that there is not a means for Christians to exist in the culture; you are to be targeted and killed," said Mark Lipdo, director of the Stefanos Foundation, at an April 5 event hosted by the Family Research Council (FRC). Nigeria is a key focus for the religious liberty efforts of the Stefanos Foundation.
The most recent attack by Boko Haram came Easter Sunday near a church where at least 40 people were killed, according to Reuters News Service.
In Nigeria, there are three levels of persecution: street, state and sect, Emmanuel Ogebe, a U.S.-based Nigerian human rights lawyer, said at the FRC briefing.
At the street level, average Muslims in northern Nigeria are taught that Christians are infidels, Ogebe said.
At "the state level, we have state governments who persecute Christians so they cannot get a job. If you get a job, you can't be promoted. If you're a Christian, you can't get loans to build a church," Ogebe said.
Sect violence is mostly being done by Boko Haram, which is "calling for Christians to leave, calling for jihad," said Gregory Trent, who works for the Jubilee Campaign and recently was on a fact-finding mission in Nigeria. Social hostilities in Nigeria are significantly elevated in contrast to previous studies, given the rising number of instances of bombings and rioting. The Jubilee Campaign advocates for religious and ethnic minorities living under oppressive regimes.
In the Pew study, social hostilities included individuals and groups reacting to a religion or religious person with violence, harassment and abuse.
"In November 2008, for instance, at least 300 people were killed and hundreds of others were injured during three days of religious rioting in the [Nigerian] city of Jos," according to the study.
Religious hostilities are constantly on Nigerians' minds, with Trent noting, "The violence has not abated; the violence has not stopped; there are constant barrages of attacks."
The Pew Forum study can be accessed here.
Mark Norton, a student from California Baptist University, is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.
c. 2012 Baptist Press. Used with permission.
Publication date: April 24, 2012