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Today the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released what it claims to be the first quantitative worldwide study on how governments and societies infringe on the religious beliefs and practices of individuals.

The Global Restrictions On Religion report finds that only about one-third of the world's countries impose high restrictions on religion, but these 64 nations contain 70 percent of the world's 6.8 billion people (thanks to India and China). While almost half of the world's countries impose low restrictions on religion, this good sign is mitigated by the fact that they only account for 15 percent of world population.

"This is very surprising," said Timothy Shah, senior research scholar at the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University. "I was taken aback and disturbed by the number of people in the world with severe restrictions on their religious practice. It was higher than I had expected."

Combining social hostilities and government restrictions made for a higher number of the world's population in restricted countries, said Brian Grim, senior researcher at the Pew Forum.

"The real test of the level of restrictions is not how they feel to the members of a majority faith but how they feel to religious minorities," said Alan Cooperman, associate director of research at Pew. "When we say 70 percent of the people live in countries with high restrictions on religion, many of them don't feel all of those restrictions." So in Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim man probably won't feel as restricted as someone of a different faith.

"We're capturing tensions within faiths as well," Cooperman said. "There are also minorities within the majorities." For example, in Greece a non-Orthodox Christian may feel at ...

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December 2009

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