Government restrictions on the practice of religion are on the rise worldwide and today, about 75 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high or very high levels of restrictions.
That was among the key findings presented at “Religion, Pluralism, and Democracy,” an Oct. 12 program at the Columbus School of Law sponsored by Catholic University’s Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University.
Brian Grim (above) senior researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life was the lead-off morning speaker. He summarized the findings of his organization’s report released in September, “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion.”
The report documented a “spike” in religious intolerance around the world, including examples such as: Increases in crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias; increased government interference with worship or other religious practices; a constitutional referendum in Switzerland that banned the construction of mosques in the country; more than two dozen churches forced to close in Indonesia due to pressure from Islamist extremists or, in some instances, local officials; and in Nigeria, escalating violence between Christian and Muslim communities, including a series of deadly attacks.
“All religious groups experience these kinds of hostilities to some extent,” said Grim.
In the United States, some religious groups also face difficulties in obtaining zoning permits to build or expand houses of worship, religious schools, or other religious institutions. And in the spring of 2010, Oklahoma legislators proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would have banned state courts from considering sharia law or international law in their decisions.
The Middle East and North Africa are the least hospitable regions in the world for the free exercise of religious belief, according to the Pew report. The highest number of reported cases of harassment is directed against Christians, followed by Muslims and Jews.
Speakers on later panels represented organizations such as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights; John the Apostle Orthodox Institute, Russian Orthodox University, Russia; and the International Relations Department, Ministry of Public Security, Vietnam.
Catholic University law school Professor Robert Destro, director of the law school’s Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion, served as organizer and panelist for the daylong conference, and also provided a summary of the discussion at its end.