Freedom of Religion: How widespread is religious oppression?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Freedom of Religion
FDR_Memorial_wall (1)

Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial wall dedicated to the Four Freedoms.

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 second column in this series …

HOW much of the world enjoys religious freedom?

The answer may surprise you, especially because an international campaign for religious freedom following World War II led to widespread promises. In their research, Finke and Martin found: “As of 2008, 92 percent of the countries (126) with populations greater than two million have constitutions that provide for religious freedom. Only 11 countries fail to include such assurances.”

But the truth isn’t that simple!

Digging deeper into global data, Finke and Martin also found:

In 2009, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that about one-third of all countries “have high or very high restrictions on religion.” The Forum’s report goes on to explain, however, that because several of the most populous nations have high restrictions “nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with high restrictions on religion.”

How can these two findings both be true?

It turns out that many countries proclaim religious freedom—but also have religious preferences or limitations enshrined in their founding documents.

Finke and Martin point to Afghanistan to illustrate the problem:

The new constitution of Afghanistan offers one of many examples. Article 2 promises that non-Islamic “religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law” and Article 3 explains that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” As currently interpreted in Afghanistan, this virtually eliminates the public profession of a faith other than Islam and denies the freedom of converting to a religion other than Islam.

If you discuss these values with friends this week, consider asking whether our basic American religious freedoms also conflict with limitations on religion, these days. Where and when should an individual’s freedom of religious expression end? Can all of our varying religious beliefs peacefully co-exist in the American public square?

It’s a hot topic, related to headline news events, so remember that OurValues is designed to encourage civil dialogue.

Please, start a conversation …

OurValues is designed to spark spirited discussion, because civil conversations build healthy communities. You are free to share, email, repost or print out these columns and use them with friends or in your class or small group.

You may also care to read a related story about the unprecedented actions of one global religious leader: Pope Francis as he prepares for an American tour September 22 to 27, 2015.

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