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More Religion, Less Religious Freedom
By Doug Bandow

(For the full article, go to The American Spectator) — “The modern world is becoming increasingly religious,” yet at the same time there is “intensifying persecution,” according to the Hudson Institute’s Paul Marshall. He spoke at a forum last week to summarize the results of a detailed new study that will be published next year. Marshall ‘s presentation surveyed the globe and found a few bright spots amid much tragedy.
There are “religiously free” nations in every region, he told the audience, with Western Europe and the North Atlantic largely free. Latin America, too, stands well, with the exception of Mexico , Colombia , and Cuba .
Yet even in several European countries religious liberty is unnecessarily limited: “[One sees mounting state discrimination and increasingly aggressive identity indoctrination squeezing out religious values in the public square,” Marshall warned. As a result, Belgium , France , Germany , and Greece are less free
religiously than are Brazil , Guatemala , Japan , Latvia , Senegal , and Ukraine .
Still, one can practice one’s religion without great fear in even these more restrictive European states. Alas, there are many religious hellholes, concentrated in Asia, North Africa and West Asia, Africa, and the former Soviet Union . Eleven nations fell into category seven at the bottom. Another eleven were at level six.
The worst persecuting states “tend to be communist, nationalist, or Islamist,” explained Marshall . China , Cuba , North Korea , and Vietnam fit the first category. Belarus , Burma , Eritrea , Turkmenistan , and Uzbekistan fall into the second group. Afghanistan , Bahrain , Egypt , Iran , Iraq , Mauritania , Pakistan , Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia , and Sudan meet the final criterion.
It is an odd mix, communist and Islamic. As Marshall pointed out, “extremely religious or extremely secular states comprise most of the religiously intolerant countries.” Notably, secularity does not guarantee religious freedom, as is evident from the communist nations, as well as Turkey and to some degree France and Mexico . Nor do issues of state religions or state subsidies for religion correlate much to religious liberty, noted Marshall .
PERHAPS THE MOST STRIKING correlation with religious persecution is religious background. Obviously, intervening events can have an important impact: Do people’s Buddhist beliefs matter much when a communist government is making policy? Nevertheless, most nations with a Christian background are relatively free. The only set of countries where that relationship does not hold is Orthodox states, many of them former Soviet constituent republics or Soviet satellite states.
The one Jewish state, Israel , rates a middling 3. The two Hindu states, India and Nepal , come in at 5. Buddhist states do much worse, with four in the bottom two categories; however, most of these are communist-ruled.
Worst, by any measure, are nations with an Islamic background. Twelve fall into categories 6 and 7. Another 20 are at levels 4 and 5. Just two, Mali and Senegal , are genuinely free (in category two). Of six mixed Christian-Muslim states, one is at level seven and five are at levels 4 and 5.
The individual injustice resulting from refusing to recognize, let alone protect, freedom of conscience in these nations is obvious. But there is a larger political impact, since “religious freedom is necessary to protect economic and political freedom,” in Marshall ‘s words.
In particular, the lack of religious liberty in the Muslim worlds creates an incubator for anti-Western terrorism and discourages the development of more liberal, democratic societies. Warned Marshall : “Radical Islam probably is the most serious threat to religious freedom. The question of religious freedom is important anywhere in the world. It is particularly important in the Muslim world.” For persecution most often is employed against dissenting Muslims, making the “question of religious freedom in the Islamic world a key factor in which political forces win out,” explained Marshall .
Doug Bandow is Vice President for Policy of Citizen Outreach. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of several books, including Foreign Follies: America ‘s New Global Empire (Xulon Press).