by Natalie Buchbinder
When you think of religious restriction, what country comes to mind? Visions of the Middle East, North Africa, portions of the East? What about the United States? Israel? Both saw a rise in their restrictions against religion in a one-year period from August 2009 through mid-2010, according to new data published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The problem is not contained to a specific region. Globally, the rate of religious intolerance has risen 6 percent. More three-quarters of the world’s population endures violations of their religious values in some form. Shouldn’t we be moving forward, not taking steps backward? According to the data, all five major world religions–Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism–have experienced a rise in restrictions placed against their religion by the countries their followers reside in, both socially and through government action.
In the United States, restrictions range from the prohibition of wearing religious attire to the rejection of religious permits. According to the report, some individuals in state facilities were barred from maintaining a religiously mandated beard that violated “inmate grooming policy.” The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating this instance on behalf of a Seikh inmate.
But the situation in some other countries is far more dire. Israel is on the list of “Countries with Very High Social Hostilities Involving Religion,” which Pew defines as those countries in which religious groups experience hostility from citizens and social groups and organizations.
Israel is joined on the list, which has increased by 50% since 2007, by 14 other countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestinian Territories, Saudia Arabia and Egypt in the Middle Eastern region alone. This rise marks a dangerous trend for the world. Social hostility includes terrorist attacks, to which Israel is no stranger.
While the report shows that Christians and Muslims experience the most harassment in countries around the world, perhaps most alarming is the rise in the rate of harassment against Jews worldwide. Sixty-eight countries have documented the harassment of Jews, either socially or by the government–a number that has risen from 51 five years ago.
The data did not include a barometer of the severity of attacks, a problem when trying to assess the damage this harassment is doing on the morale of religious groups. While all hatred is unacceptable, a measure of intolerance needs to separate the violations banning a religious beard in court in the United States from the attacks that hit Israel daily. If the research analyzed severity, the outcome would paint a bleaker picture for the Middle East.
The research mirrors the idea that religion, especially in the United States, is coming to the forefront. It is a hot topic on the lips of politicians and the ears of the American people. If we use it right, this information can put religion into conversation instead of a battle. We can only begin how to repair religious tension once it is identified, and work towards tolerance.