By Aaron Earls
According to the U.S. State Department, 74 percent of the world’s population lives in countries “with serious restrictions on religious freedom.”
The International Religious Freedom Report for 2015 details rampant religious persecution and discrimination around the world. Blasphemy, apostasy, and anti-conversion laws are frequently being used to curb freedom.
David Saperstein, ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said 24 percent of the world’s countries have critical limits on religious freedoms.
Government policies or violent acts by individuals and organizations contributed to the lack of liberty in these nations, which contain almost three-fourths of the global population.
The report cites a study from Roger Finke and Dane Mataic of Penn State that determined the number of countries that require religious registration has increased dramatically over the last two decades, to nearly 90 percent of all nations.
The study found that while some countries refrain from using the registration to discriminate, many used the information to regulate religious practice.
Specifically, Finke and Mataic found an increase in the percentage of countries that required submission of religious doctrine for approval prior to registration (up from 13 to 18 percent), required a minimum number of religious community members (up from 17 to 32 percent), and that sometimes denied registration (up from 22 to 27 percent).
The authors also found a strong link between increasing registration requirements and an overall deterioration in the status of religious freedom in many countries.
They also found that members of minority religions, or religions that are new to a country, are disproportionately discriminated against by increasing regulation.
Iranian authorities required all churchgoers to register and prevented Muslim converts to Christianity from entering various churches.
If those churches baptized new converts or preached in Farsi, a local language, they were forced to close. If they met in homes, they were arrested.
In Russia, a member of the Church of Evangelical Christians–Baptists was arrested and charged with holding an unauthorized public event after police found him handing out copies of the New Testament to people on the street.
A pastor was imprisoned for five days and fined for organizing an open-air meeting for worship without informing the city administration.
According to former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, far too many countries have “witnessed appalling patterns of significant restrictions on religious practice, as well as societal intolerance of, restrictions on, and even violence against members of religious minority groups.”
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.