Few around the globe live where all religions are free & equal

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Few countries treat religion in the same neutral way found in the United States.  Even among liberal democracies, governments often play favorites by giving support to some religions and restricting minority religions. As a result, only one-in-five people around the globe live in a country that treats all religions equally.

This statistic is based on work by Jonathan Fox from Bar Ilan University. His Religion and State Project has combed through constitutions around the world, taking note of the scores of ways that governments support or restrict religion. Using Fox’s data, I calculated the percentage of the world’s population living under different types of regimes (note: I grouped some of the types into larger categories).


READ: Five things I teach foreign students about American religion & politics


Only around 14% of the world population lives in a U.S. style regime that stays out of the religion business (and most of these are Americans). Most of the world lives where some religions are given preference—ranging from financial support to historical institutions to religious states that require adherence to the majority religion. Few countries are hostile to religion, but with China and other large countries, nearly a third of the world lives under such regimes.

Here is a break-down of the types.

State treats all religions equally, minimal support

Examples: United States, Netherlands, Japan, Canada

These states take a hands-off approach to religion. They are generally positive toward religion in general. When they do support religion, this support is minimal and does not favor particular religions. They also tend to have few restrictions on the practice of religion, including minority religious groups.

State supports all religions equally

Example: Brazil, Senegal, New Zealand

Several nations are more supportive of religions, but their support is given to any religious group. In Senegal, for example, the government provides some financial support for religious groups and the teaching of Christianity or Islam in public schools. This support is broad-based and applies to all groups.

State gives preferential treatment to one or more religions

Examples: Germany, Poland, Italy

Many states give preferential treatment to one or more religions even though they do not have an official state religion. In some of these countries, one religion is almost treated as an official religion (e.g., the Catholicism in Peru) with designation as the historical or traditional religion. In other countries one or more religions may be singled out for special benefits (e.g., Buddhists in Thailand) and/or the state limits recognition of legitimate religious groups (e.g., Romania). In Austria, for example, there are three tiers of support

  • Top tier: Groups who have been in the country for 20 years and have 0.2% of the population (around a dozen groups qualify)
  • Second tier: Religious groups with at least 300 members.
  • Bottom tier: “Cults” including Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups that are denied official status

State actively supports majority religion

Example: Israel, Denmark, United Kingdom

Some states have an official religion that is actively supported by the state. Many of these states are in Europe where there is a national church and is part of the national identity.

State religious state

Example: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

About a dozen states the state does more than give its official religion financial support and elevated status: the state enforces the dominant religion. There are currently about a dozen of these states, each of which are Islamic.

State controls or bans religion

Examples: China, Cuba

There are two types of states that are hostile toward religion. The first are those that either control or ban religion. China is the largest example. These groups view religion as a threat and keep it in check through complete regulation and/or criminalization.

State keeps religion out of public square

Example: France, Turkey

The second type of hostile state generally allows for freedom of religion but relegates religion to the private sphere. The public sphere is a religion-free zone. These states tend to be democracies that came into being against monarchies that were closely tied to religion, such as with the Ottoman Empire and Turkey and the Catholic monarchy in France.


READ: Inequality: The USA is NOT an outlier on religiosity and economics


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  • ben in oakland

    This is a pretty funny article.

    anti-gay Christians in the united states are whining that they are being persecuted for their sincere religious beliefs. Brian Fischer, Rick wiles, the huckster, and a host of others all claim they are being marginalized and persecuted, with box cars and death camps soon to follow.

    Theocratic Christians are claiming ours is a Christian nation, based upon Christian belief. Doesn’t sound like they are getting minimal support from their governments, especially in Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, Lousiana– oh hell, the whole South and the Mississippi of the North.

    The turkish government is doing all it can to subvert the foundational principles of modern Turkey, as founded by Gemal Ataturk, and turn it into an Islamic republic.

  • Fran

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a “cult,” and answering this article’s reference to them, they are no longer “denied official status” in Austria.

    They were recognized in May 2009 as a religious denomination after a 30-year-long legal battle. There are 21,319 Witnesses in Austria; and statewide, the 298 congregations take place in 33 languages.

  • Greg1

    I wouldn’t call the JW’s a cult. Now the Seventh Day Adventists would and should be, as their foundress Ellen Gould White is put up there with the Twelve Apostles. But the JW’s are more an extension of Judaism without the rites, than it is Christian. We all know that Christ Jesus was believed to be God from the beginning, but they refuse to accept that. For example, one of the Apostle John’s personally taught bishops wrote the following; “in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time … elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace.” (Ignatius of Antioch Letter to the Ephesians). “enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God,” (IoA Letter to the Romans). “For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]…

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  • Fran

    Greg1,

    Jesus is called the “firstborn of creation” because he was God’s FIRST creation (Colossians 1:15). This is further confirmed at Revelation 3:14.

    Jesus is also called the “only-begotten Son of God” (John 3:16), which means Jesus is the only one DIRECTLY CREATED by God. Jesus is the only one whom God used when He created all other things (Colossians 1:16).

    Then, too, Jesus is called the “Word” (John 1:14), which shows he spoke FOR God, delivering messages and instructions to his other sons, both spirit and human.

    Obviously, Jesus had a beginning, whereas Jehovah God has no beginning or end (Psalm 90:2).

    The Father is also greater than the Son (John 14:28; 1 Corinth. 11:3–the head of Christ is God). Jehovah alone is God Almighty (Genesis 17:1), and therefore He has no equal. Thus, Jehovah is the only person our whole-souled worship should go to.

    Of course, we can be foot-step “followers” of Jesus, his son, at the same time, as Jesus instructed.

  • Bob

    Fran, your whole Jesus/Jehovah tale that you keep unloading about here, the foundation of your superstitions, is a steaming pile of nonsense out of the gate. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

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