Pew: Government Restrictions on Religion Remained at High Levels before the COVID-19 Pandemic Began

Milton Quintanilla | Contributor for | Monday, October 4, 2021
Hands holding the bars of a jail cell, Canadian Pastor jailed for holding in-person worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic is set to be released

Pew: Government Restrictions on Religion Remained at High Levels before the COVID-19 Pandemic Began

According to a new study by Pew Research, government restrictions on religion were at an all-time high before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report, released last Thursday, is part of Pew’s 12th annual study on global religious persecution in 198 countries and territories by taking government restrictions on religion and social hostilities into account.

Findings show that government restrictions have maintained at high levels since before the pandemic in 2019, the most recent year with available data. At the time, 57 countries (29 percent) reported “high” or “very high” level government restrictions on religion, matching a peak from 2012 and an uptick of just one country in 2018.

Pew explained that the majority of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions in 2019 were from either “the Asia-Pacific region (25 of the 50 countries in that region) or in the Middle East-North Africa region (19 of 20 countries).”

Social hostilities on religion, particularly from private individuals and groups, experienced a decline in 2019. At the time, Pew reported that 43 countries (22 percent) recorded “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities, a decline from 53 countries (27 percent) in 2018, and from a peak of 65 countries (33 percent) in 2012.

Additionally, the number of countries with at least “high” levels of social hostilities on religion is now the lowest since 2009, which was 35 countries.

Samirah Majumdar, the report’s lead researcher told Christianity Today, that the social hostilities declined in 2019 “partly due to a decrease in reports of terrorism, mob violence, and hostilities against proselytizing.”

In 2019, religion related terrorism dropped to a record low as 49 countries reported “at least one” type of terrorist act which included “deaths, physical abuse, displacement, detentions, destruction of property, and fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups.” According to Pew, it was a significant decline from 64 countries in 2018 and from its peak of 82 countries in 2014.

When putting government and social hostilities together, 75 countries (38 percent) reported “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions on religious restrictions in 2019, a drop from 80 countries (40 percent) in 2018. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Rattankun Thongbun

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.