Freedom of Religion: How do governments oppress religion?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Freedom of Religion

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, as millions of Americans await the visit of Pope Francis, we are sharing from an Ahead of the Trend overview on religious freedom by Roger Finke and Robert R. Martin. This is the fourth column in this series


Saudi Arabia must protect the most sacred destination in Islam: Mecca. The Hajj season is approaching soon for Muslim pilgrims.

HOW do governments limit religious freedom—or decide to actively oppress some religious groups?

This is an important question because the researchers found that the vast majority of the world’s nations at least pay lip service to religious freedom. It is, after all, recognized as a basic human right. So, how does oppression unfold, even in countries with a stated commitment to this freedom?

Oppression takes many forms, but Finke and Martin highlight two in their overview …

NATIONAL ALLIANCES—”One of the most common patterns of religion-state interaction is that the state forms an alliance with the dominant religion or group of religions,” the scholars write. “For the state, the alliance offers political stability, visible support for the dominant religion and culture, and often provides a mechanism for controlling the activities of the most powerful religious institutions. For religious institutions these alliances offer opportunities to procure resources from the state and to restrict the activities of competitors. The most obvious competitors are other religions, but cultural and even state institutions (e.g., secular courts, schools, etc.) can be viewed as competing with the dominant religion.”

As examples of these formal, traditional partnerships, the scholars point to Saudi Arabia with Islam and much of Latin America with the Catholic church.

Can you think of other countries around the world that have such national alliances?

LOCAL ALLIANCES—Whatever the national policy on religion might be, the scholars also point out that “local” or “regional” bias also may oppress minority religious groups. “Given substantial discretion on how to interpret laws for registering, defining or tolerating religions, their discretion often serves to favor the majority.”

Can you think of local or regional religious bias that may oppress minorities?

Are these questions limited to other countries around the world? Are they relevant in the U.S. today?

Your opinion matters …

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