Government restrictions on religious practice remained high in the year leading up to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closures, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.
Bench published results of its 12th Annual Global Religious Persecution Study Thursday, analyzing 198 countries in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.
When it comes to public policies and laws that violate religious practices, 2019 saw a similar rate of intolerance to 2018, which was noted as a year with a high rate of government-imposed restrictions.
Pew found that 57 countries had “high” or “very high” restrictions on religious practice, which was slightly higher than the 56 countries in 2018 that reported the same rate and the highest rate since 2012, which also reported 57 countries.
This was also a significant increase from 2014, when 47 countries were listed as having “high” or “very high” government restrictions on religious belief and practice.
âThe analysis shows that government restrictions involving religion, which in 2018 had reached their highest level since the study began, remained at a similar level in 2019,â Pew explained.
âThe global median score of the Government Restrictions Index (GRI), a 10-point index based on 20 indicators, stood at 2.9. This score has increased significantly since 2007, the first year of the study, when it was 1.8. “
While government restrictions across the world remained high in 2019, the level of social hostilities towards religion and religious terrorism both declined compared to previous years.
Pew found that 43 countries had either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ social hostilities regarding religion, which was lower than the 53 countries reporting the same in 2018 and well below the 65 countries reporting the same in 2012.
In addition, a decrease has been reported in the number of countries facing ‘terrorism related to religion’, defined as including ‘death, physical abuse, displacement, detention, destruction of property, fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups â.
âIn 2019, 49 countries experienced at least one of these types of religion-related terrorism, a record for the study. This was down from 64 countries in 2018 and a record 82 countries in 2014, âcontinued Pew.
“One of the reasons for the decline in the study’s counterterrorism measures is that ISIS subsequently lost control of a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria,” the report adds.
In 2017, the Trump administration said the US-led coalition defeated the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and captured the de facto capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Raqqa, Syria. On December 9 of the same year, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared that the country was now âcompletely liberatedâ from ISIS.
Since 2014, more than 40,000 people from more than 110 countries are believed to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the ISIS caliphate. In the UK, it was estimated that more British Muslims fought for ISIS than had served in its armed forces.
Although US-led troops have killed tens of thousands of jihadists, insurgents still remain in parts of the country and ISIS terrorist cells are operating around the world.
The Pew report adds that âthe number of violent attacks perpetrated by the group declined in Iraq in 2019, according to the Global Terrorism Database.
âNonetheless, ISIS’s multinational network of organizations remained active. ISIS-loyal groups carried out bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019, killing more than 250 people and injuring about 500 others in churches and hotels, âPew added.
Pew noted that the numbers reported in this study predate the 2020 government shutdowns that took place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which often involved controversial measures considered by many to be a violation of civil liberties, including the religious freedom.
There have been numerous litigation in the United States over state-level measures that critics say illegally treated places of worship worse than comparable non-religious companies.
In the decision Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn c. Cuomo, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that pandemic restrictions could not make churches worse than secular entities.
âMembers of this Court are not experts in public health, and we must respect the judgment of those who have particular expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in the event of a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten â, we read in the opinion of the majority.
“The restrictions at issue here, by effectively prohibiting many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.”