Government Restrictions on Religion Reach Record High Worldwide

A report released by the Pew Research Center last month shows that government restrictions on religion have been on the rise since the Center began tracking these statistics in 2007.

(Photo by Julia Volk,

Pew bases its  government restriction index (GRI) on “laws, policies and actions by officials that impinge on religious beliefs and practices.” 

Pew calculates its GRI on a 10-point scale based on 20 indicators. In 2018, the most recent statistics available, the median score climbed to 2.9, up from 1.8 when the project began, and restrictions have been rising steadily since 2011.

Although the 2018 score was just one decimal point higher than the previous year, Pew emphasized that the modest increase “contributed to a substantial rise in government restrictions on religion over more than a decade.”

Part of the growing global trend, covering the 198 countries and territories that Pew studied, is due to government use of force including detentions and physical abuse to intimidate religious groups.

The number of countries where the intensity of restrictions is “high” or “very high” increased from 52 (26 percent) in 2017 to 56 countries (28 percent) in 2018. 

As many as 25 of the 56 countries where government restrictions on religion were high or very high in 2018 are located in the Asia-Pacific region which accounted for half of all the countries in that part of the world. In the Middle East-North Africa region, 18 countries were subjected to high or very high levels of restrictions—90 percent of all countries in the region.

China, with a 9.3 GRI score out of 10 in this year’s report, has been high on the list of the most restrictive governments since the study began.

“The Chinese government restricts religion in a variety of ways, including banning entire religious groups (such as the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups), prohibiting certain religious practices, raiding places of worship and detaining and torturing individuals,” the report states.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.


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Pew Research Center government interference with freedom of religion or belief