The Hudson Institute recently released the initial findings of the Center’s forthcoming book, Religious Freedom in the World 2007. This survey describes and analyzes 100 countries, especially those where religious freedom is most violated. It ranks them comparatively, includes scores and charts of freedom, details world trends, correlates religious freedom with measures of economic freedom, social wellbeing, civil liberties, and political rights, and features essays by experts explaining relevant issues.
How is it measured?
There are four dimensions of restricted religious freedom:
1) Social restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion by other religious groups, associations, or the culture at large
2) Government restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion by the official laws, policies, or administrative actions of the state
3) Government favoritism, or “positive” sanctions, to one or more religious groups, increasing freedom for some at the expense of freedom for all
4) Overall constraints on the free practice, profession or selection of religion
Restrictions on atheism as well as religion
Paul Marshall, from the Hudson Institute, writes that “Atheists and agnostics can also suffer from religious persecution. In Indonesia it is in principle illegal to be an atheist, though this provision is not enforced; but any Saudi Arabian, all of whom must, by law, be Muslim, who pronounced himself an atheist faces a real risk of being executed for apostasy.”
Religious freedom is important – for us
When the Pew Institite asked 7,400 peopel in 11 countries in 2006 “is religious freedom very important for you and for others” three quarters said yes for themselves but only two thirds thought it was important for others. It’s a real difference and highlights that but is not as bad as it could be (although the variation between states is likely to be sizeable). It does remind us that we need to constantly check ourselves when we call for religious freedom to make sure that it is not at the expense of others’ freedoms.
Atheist and Muslim states amongst the worst
The Christian Post’s take on things was that “countries with Christian backgrounds have the best religious freedom record” whereas “officially atheist countries were joined at the bottom of the religious freedom pole by countries with Islam [sic] background.”
But, as Marshall writes “There is…variation in the religious background of countries with high levels of religious freedom. This is obviously a complex matter, since current regimes may reflect comparatively little of a country’s religious background. China, Tibet, and Vietnam all have a largely Buddhist background, but current religious repression comes at the hand of communist party regimes whose members profess to be atheistic materialists. Turkey has a Muslim background, but its constitutional order is highly secularist, while Muslim-background Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan suffer under repression by Soviet political holdovers…. Nevertheless, since the survey usually covers several countries of each religious background, the overall patterns can be revealing:
No doubt that this can be used to attack atheism or Islam as inherently incompatible with freedom but instead we need to unilaterally condemn the political structures that seek to promote a single ideology to the exclusion of all others, and instead struggle hard to defend and champion the successful structures that already exist. It will be important to look further at how instumental secularism is in defending religious freedom.
The value of religious freedom
The report also highlights the correlations between religious freedom and other freedoms, gender equality, lower military spending, a good economy and high levels of heath. The strongest correlation is with religious persecution unsurprisingly. And while while religious freedom may not drive these positive attributes it apears to be an integral part of a healthy society (which of course benefits the oppressors as well as the oppressed).
Meanwhile in its most recent edition, Foreign Policy magazine‘s 2007 Failed States Index finds that “Freedom of worship…may…be a key indicator of stability. Vulnerable states display a greater degree of religious intolerance, according to scores calculated by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. Persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh, Burma, Iran, and Uzbekistan has deprived millions of faithful of the freedom to follow their beliefs. But religious repression is often nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle the country’s civil society. In Zimbabwe, religious leaders were targeted recently as some of the last remaining outspoken voices of opposition in the country. And in Belarus, President Aleksandr Lukashenko has severely curtailed religious freedom in order to quash movements he deems bearers of foreign political influence. It seems the leaders of many failing states distrust any higher power that may be greater than their own.”