Freedom of Religion: Limiting religious freedom is playing with fire

This entry is part 5 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 fifth and final column in this series


Americans are proud of the religious freedom guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. But did you know that experiments with radical religious freedom extend back to the 17th century? Click this historical marker to read about Lady Deborah Moody, who established an unusual, religiously diverse town in 1643.

WE turn full circle today to the question we raised in Part 1: Does religious freedom fuel conflict?

And, as we have pointed out, the scholars studying these issues conclude: Governments that try to limit religious freedom wind up fostering conflict and even touching off violent clashes—especially when minority religious groups are oppressed. 

Around the world, the scholars found, countries range from few restrictions on religion—to formidable barriers placed on religion. Then, they looked at levels of violence in these nations, comparing them from low to high in their oppression of religion. They found:

None of the countries with a “low” score on government restrictions were reported to have widespread violence related to religion. In contrast, 45 percent of the countries with “high” government restrictions had such violence.

The scholars looked deeper into the data, focusing on countries where oppression took the form of segregation between religious groups—and they found violence was a widespread problem:

Religion-related violence was evident in 80 percent of the countries with the highest level of religious segregation.

In addition, they found that violence was a serious problem in countries that tried to elevate one religious group over others:

Nearly one half of the countries with social movements seeking power for a single religion report violence or widespread religion-related violence. By comparison only 19 percent of the countries without these movements report violence and a mere 8 percent report religion-related violence.

To put these conclusions in simple terms: When governments meddle in the religious lives of their people, they are playing with fire.

What do you think of these findings?

Are they only relevant in other countries around the world—or do the scholars conclusions relate to conditions in the U.S. as well?

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.

Series Navigation<< Freedom of Religion: How do governments oppress religion?