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Who Persecutes Religion the Most? By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, July 13, 2007


The greatest persecutors of religion are Islamist and communist regimes, according to a just released report from the Hudson Institute's Center on Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.   Regimes that respect religious freedom also have more civil liberties, more prosperity, better health for their people, and less militarized societies.

Hudson is publishing "Religious Freedom in the World 2007 later this year but released preliminary results at a conference early this week.

All of the most religiously free countries are democracies, almost all of them culturally Christian in background.  The non Christian exceptions are Shintoist Japan, Buddhist Thailand and Mongolia, Jewish Israel, and Islamic Mali and Senegal.

The most religiously repressive include communist regimes such as Cuba, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Islamist regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and former Soviet republic such as Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the later two of which are predominantly Islamic.

Hungary, Ireland, Estonia and the United States are ranked as the most religiously free.

But there are some surprises.  As Hudson scholar Paul Marshall noted, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Botswana, Mali, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa ranked higher in religious freedom than Belgium, France, Germany, and Greece.  "There are absolutely no grounds for thinking that religious freedom is an exclusively Western concern or achievement," Marshall wrote.

Marshall also pointed out that some tyrannies, and their apologists in the West, prioritize "economic rights" and supposed "Asian" and "Islamic" values over religious freedom for individuals.   But non-Western and historically poor countries such as Mongolia, Thailand, Mali and Senegal have achieved relative religious freedom, without sacrificing their culture or their religion.  "It is a moral travesty of the highest order to maintain that because people are hungry or cold it is legitimate to repress their beliefs as well," Marshall riposted.

A majority of the world's most religiously repressive regimes have majority Muslim populations, including 12 of the 20 religiously "unfree" nations, according to the Hudson report.  The problems are not just with the obvious theocracies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Democracies in predominantly Muslim Indonesia and Bangladesh were ranked only partly religiously free.  They suffer not so much from government persecution but from private Islamist influence and social mores that are hostile to religious minorities and religious tolerance.  Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories are also religiously unfree, thanks primarily to non-government violence aimed at religious groups.

Religiously free countries are more amenable to civil liberties over all, according to the Hudson report.  Some democratic regimes have poor records on religious freedom, but just about all the religiously free nations have good civil liberties rankings.  Although still religiously free, almost all Western European regimes have better civil liberties rankings than religious freedom rankings.  That region's growing secularization and discomfort with religion may account for the disparity.

Maybe more provocatively, the Hudson report asserts that freedom of religion facilitates greater economic liberty and prosperity.  A section written by Brian Grimm of the Pew Forum provides data indicating that nations with greater protections of religious expression are likelier to protect property rights and have stronger economic growth.  Regimes that are prone to regulate religion are also more prone to manipulate and restrict the economy.  Nations that persecute religion also have fewer physicians, higher infant mortality, and more underweight children.  Regimes that restrict religion likewise tend to be more militarized and devote larger chunks of their economy to armaments.

Examples of regimes that have poor economic freedom and poor religious freedom, not to mention high levels of militarization, include Burma, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, China, Cuba, Pakistan, the Palestinian areas, and Vietnam.  Theodore Roosevelt Malloch of the Spiritual Enterprise Institute, writing for Hudson's report, emphasized that flourishing competition among religions, unhindered by government controls, tends to spur greater religious activity.  This is turn leads to more non-government organizations, religious and otherwise, that operate outside of government spheres.

Malloch also pointed to evidence that belief in an afterlife and divine judgment can contribute to economic growth.  And religion can foster traits conducive to economic productivity such as "thrift, a work ethic, honesty, and openness to strangers," along with a tolerance for delayed gratification.  "Religious freedom creates the conditions for people (if they wish, and many do not) to make their own choices in relation to their ultimate concerns," Malloch wrote.  "This freedom highlights personal decisions and increases the stress on individual responsibility for religious commitments, thus increasing the degree to which individuals personally choose, shape, and own their core ideas, concepts, worldviews, habits, virtues, social engagements, and behaviors."

Religiously free societies encourage private initiative and entrepreneurship, Malloch described. Corporate activity depends upon trust and reliable contracts, which are often best sustained by religious belief.  The state by itself cannot generate the moral capital to fuel economic risk taking and reliable economic relationships.  "When religious freedom is restricted, then civil society is also stifled, and countries are deprived of its creative energies," Malloch concluded.

That religious freedom is a harbinger of greater civil liberty and protections for minorities, not to mention prosperity, was obvious to America's founders.  That radical Islam and communism are the greatest modern threats to religious liberty and decent governance should also be obvious.  But the Hudson report hopefully will be persuasive to many multi-culturalist elites in the West who prefer to ignore the obvious.


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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