Written by Don Byrd

A new report issued by Pew Research indicates that the number of countries in which religious groups suffer harassment at the hands of government or social groups continued for the second consecutive year in 2016 to rise to 187, “the largest number of countries in which harassment took place since the start of these analyses in 2007.” The world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims – were most likely to have experienced such treatment.

Most concerning is the rise in government restrictions targeting religious groups around the world. As the report observes, a rise in nationalist political rhetoric and influence has “played an increasing role in harassment.” Here is an excerpt from the report:

The share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices – rose from 25% in 2015 to 28% in 2016. This is the largest percentage of countries to have high or very high levels of government restrictions since 2013, and falls just below the 10-year peak of 29% in 2012.

Government actors – whether political parties or individual public officials – at times used nationalist, and often anti-immigrant or anti-minority, rhetoric to target religious groups in their countries in 2016. About one-in-ten (11%) countries had government actors that used this type of rhetoric.5 This marks an uptick from 2015, when 6% of cases involved political parties or officials that espoused nationalist views.6

This phenomenon was especially common in Europe. About a third of European countries (33%) had nationalist parties that made political statements against religious minorities, an increase from 20% of countries in 2015.7 In France, for example, Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, promised to continue the ban on religious clothing and symbols in public places specifically to “fight the advance of political Islam.”

The report lists the United States as a country in which “nationalist political parties or politicians targeted religious groups in 2016,” citing then-candidate Donald Trump’s “plans for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the United States and a proposed requirement that U.S. Muslims register in a database.” The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld President Trump’s immigration ban against charges that it was unconstitutionally based in religious animus toward Muslims. Overall, the Pew Report rates the U.S. relatively low in both social hostility and government restrictions directed at religion compared to the rest of the world.