New study: Government favoritism of religion ‘may harm institutions it is meant to support and protect’

by | May 31, 2022

A new study published in the journal Politics and Religion takes a deep dive into data related to religious affiliation. How deep? DEEP.

Author Dan Koev of Virginia’s Regent University studied information spanning multiple decades covering 174 different countries to gauge the impact of various forms of state religious favoritism on a society’s religion. Specifically, the study asks, how does “state support for … one religion or religious institution over all others … impact affiliation with both (1) the institution that is the recipient of this privileged status and (2) all other religious institutions?”

The results suggest that religious adherents should think twice before accepting state establishment or favoritism, if strengthening the faith is their goal. Koev writes, “[m]y findings suggest that… religious institutions that receive favorable treatment from the state lose ground relative to those that do not.” He explains that state support for a religion, perhaps because it creates an “increasingly hollow, complacent, and inefficient church,” has a small negative impact on the state-supported faith, and it carries a significant benefit instead for the non-supported faiths, unless the state actively oppresses them.


In states with an established and preferentially funded religion, the dominant religion of the state declined as a share of population by 3.4% on average in the period 1990–2010. In contrast, in states without such religious favoritism, the share of the population belonging to the most popular religion grew by 13%.


In states with an official and preferentially funded religion, minority religions performed substantially better than the established one…. [O]n average, enjoying an official status and special access to state resources negatively impacts the growth of a religion, both as a share of total population and relative to other religions in the state.

The two distinct factors (establishment of religion and preferential funding) appear to each exert an independent influence on religious affiliation, but they are most impactful when working in conjunction. Overall, these findings suggest that, when it comes to religious affiliation, official state recognition and state funding may harm institutions it is meant to support and protect.

The results of this study confirm what many proponents of religious liberty have long held: that religious favoritism by the state does religion no favors. We don’t need data to recognize that when the state supports religion, either through the nudge of indirect funding or the pressures of government endorsement or the outright establishment of a state religion, the soul freedom necessary for a truly free act of faith is jeopardized. According to this new study, it is increasingly clear on a large scale that state support of religion does not make the supported faith more attractive; if anything, state support enhances the allure of other faiths.

As BJC has emphasized for decades, religion must be voluntary to have vitality. This data seems to show that, when placed on the pedestal of state favoritism, a faith’s vitality fades.

You can access the entire study at this site.