What surprised you most about the results of this study?
We did another one eight years ago, and with this new study, you see comparatively little improvement and even deterioration in some areas. But there is improvement in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Also, you will find relatively religiously free countries everywhere in the world. Places like Botswana or Senegal have higher scores on the survey than France or Greece.
How does a country's religious background affect its religious freedom?
Christian-background countries in general score high. Many of Muslim background score low. Catholic-background countries score more or less the same as Protestant-background countries. That would not have been the case 30 years ago. The Orthodox tend to score lower. Some of this is Communist holdover. But the Orthodox traditionally have had a close relationship with the state. So the idea of new religious groups operating in their territory is still very difficult.
You discovered an interesting correlation when you compared religious freedom to economic freedom.
If you take the worst 30 countries in terms of economic freedom, every one scored low with religious freedom. The top 30 countries all scored high. Why is that? We see two connections. First, wealth could help religious freedom. But we also believe that religious freedom helps general health, well-being, and wealth broadly understood. To the degree that people are not free to organize and manage their lives, you cut down on the possibility of independent economic activity. People are simply used to not doing things unless they're told to do them.
How could this connection help expand religious freedom? Let's take Vietnam, because the U.S. government and various Christian ...