From some angles, it looks like the beginning of a hopeful trend among the steady stream of persecution headlines.

Both government and societal harassment of religion dropped worldwide in 2014, according to a Pew Research Center study released today. This is the second year in a row that researchers found such a drop.

Overall, religious restrictions were high in 34 percent of the 198 countries and self-governing territories Pew examined in 2014, down from 39 percent in 2013 and 43 percent in 2012. About half of the countries (51%) saw decreases in government restrictions, while about a third (36%) saw increases.

But the news was more mixed for Christians, which make up about 30 percent of the world’s population. Once again, Christians were the most harassed religious group, facing arrest, discrimination, and assault in 108 countries, up from 102 countries in 2013 (but falling short of the 110 countries in 2012).

Pew has measured persecution both by governmental sources and societal pressure since 2009, when it launched its landmark analysis. In 2012, religious hostilities hit record levels.

Overall, about a quarter of the world’s governments (24%) had high or very high levels of restrictions against religion in 2014, down from 28 percent in 2013 and 29 percent in 2012. (In other words, nine nations have dropped out of the “high” category since 2012.) Nearly half of the countries examined (46%) saw decreases in the level of government restrictions, while about a third (29%) saw increases.

That meant fewer governments interfered with worship practices, Pew stated. “There also was a sizable drop in the number of countries where governments used force against religious groups that resulted in individuals ...

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