Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

New Pew Forum Study Measures Government Restrictions, Social Hostilities Related to Religion in 198 Countries

Two-Thirds of World Population Lives Under High Levels of Constraints

Washington, D.C.—In a new report measuringinfringements on religious beliefs and practices around the world, thePew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds thattwo-in-three people in the world today live in countries with highlevels of restrictions on religion. The report gauges the level ofrestrictions due both to government actions and to acts of violence andintimidation by private individuals, organizations and social groups.


Mary Schultz
Communications Manager

Based on a battery of measures and careful analysis of publiclyavailable information gathered from 16 governmental and nongovernmentalorganizations – including the United Nations, the U.S. State Departmentand Human Rights Watch – Global Restrictions on Religion assessesrestrictions in 198 countries and territories, representing more than99.5% of the world’s population. The report covers a two-year period,from mid-2006 through mid-2008, and includes two indexes – theGovernment Restrictions Index and the Social Hostilities Index – thatcategorize 198 countries and territories as having very high, high,moderate or low levels of religious restrictions.

The study analyzes more than 30 measures of restrictions onreligion, 20 of which are based on government actions, such asconstitutional limitations or prohibitions on religious speech. Ananalysis of social hostilities by private actors, such asreligion-related terrorism and violence between religious groups, isalso included in the report.

Key findings include:

64 nations, about one-third of the countries in the world, havehigh or very high restrictions on religion. The brunt of theserestrictions are often felt most directly by religious minorities.

  • Among all world geographic regions, the Middle East and North Africahave the highest government and social restrictions on religion, whilethe Americas are the least restrictive region on both measures.
  • The most intense restrictions on religion are found in countries wheregovernment restrictions and religious hostilities within society aresimultaneously high, such as in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.
  • In the U.S., government restrictions are relatively few. But thelevel of religious hostilities in society exceeds those reported in anumber of other large democracies, including Brazil and Japan.
  • Most countries provide for “religious freedom” in their constitutionsor basic laws, yet only a quarter fully respect this legal right inpractice.
  • In 75 countries, or four-in-ten countries in the world, national orlocal governments limit efforts by religious groups or individuals topersuade others to join their faith.
  •  In 178 countries (90%), religious groups must register with thegovernment for various purposes, and in 117 (59%) countries theregistration requirements resulted in major problems for, or outrightdiscrimination against, certain faiths.

    The report, including an executive summary, graphics and tables,methodology, index scores by region and country, and a summary ofresults, is available online.

    The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Lifedelivers timely, impartial information on issues at the intersection ofreligion and public affairs. The Pew Forum is a nonpartisan,nonadvocacy organization and does not take positions on policy debates.Based in Washington, D.C., the Pew Forum is a project of the PewResearch Center, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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