By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, SEPT. 28, 2012 ( - Two recent reports on religious liberty have amply documented the challenges believers face in practicing their faith.

The Texas-based Liberty Institute recently published “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America.” The introduction affirms that the Founding Fathers considered religious liberty as the “first freedom.”

“They understood that one’s right to worship God and follow his conscience according to the principles of his religious faith was foundational to civic tranquility,” the introduction stated.

The report went on to detail threats to religious liberty in such areas as the public display of nativity scenes, memorials to soldiers, and prayers at legislative assemblies. It noted that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has mandated that funerals for veterans at national cemeteries be completely secularized, even when the veteran or his family expressed a desire for a religious funeral.

The opposition to any form of religious expression goes to such extreme lengths as the case of Jonathan Morgan, a third-grader in Plano, Texas, who was told by school officials that he could not include a religious message in the goodie bags that he was bringing to the “Winter Party” to share with his classmates.

Then, there was the case of a Houston-area school district that banned any religious content in the Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards. The report said that: “When one student was asked what Easter meant to her, she was told that she could not say, “Jesus.”

Another case was that of an eleven-year-old student in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who was penalized for mentioning Jesus in a Christmas poetry assignment. His teacher asked him to submit a rewrite of the poem.

Work-related cases were also numerous. A Mount Sinai Hospital nurse was forced to participate in a late-term abortion against her conscience and religious convictions. She was threatened with termination and loss of license. The nurse lost in both the district court and the Second Circuit, the report noted. 

The report contains brief summaries of hundreds of cases over the last two decades of attempts to silence any religious expression in the public square of religion. 

Regions of the world

The second recent report came from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. They published their third report on religious liberty that looked at the period from mid-2009 to mid-2010. 

It found that restrictions on religion increased not only in countries with a record of bad practice in matters of religious freedom, but also in hat began the year with high or very high restrictions, such as Indonesia and Nigeria, but also in many countries with a good record, such as Switzerland and the United States. 

No less than 75% of the world’s population “lives in countries where governments, social groups or individuals restrict people’s ability to freely practice their faith,” the report stated. 

According to the Pew Forum the share of countries with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose from 31% in the year ending in mid-2009 to 37% in the year ending in mid-2010. 

Sub-Saharan Africa had the largest share of countries with increases in restrictions on religion, while Europe and the Americas had the lowest proportion of countries with greater restrictions. 

Overall, in the report found that government restrictions were highest in the Middle East and North Africa. These two regions were also the ones with the highest level of social hostility to religious freedom.

Given that some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, the report noted that three-quarters of the world’s approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion, up from 70% a year earlier. 

More hostile countries 

According to the report during the four years that the Pew Institute has been examining religious freedom the number of countries with very high government restrictions on religion rose from 10 in mid-2007 to 18 in mid-2010. Among the countries added were Afghanistan, Algeria, Indonesia, Russia, Syria and Tunisia.

Only two countries, Brunei and Turkey, were removed from the list.

Christians topped the list as the religious group most likely to face harassment. In the year ending in mid-2010, government or social harassment of Christians was reported in 111 countries; the previous high was 107 countries in the first year of the study. 

They also came top of the list for the cumulative total of countries where harassment took place during the last four years, a total of 139 nations.

The hostility came from either government sources or individuals. Christians were harassed by government officials or organizations in 95 countries in the year ending in mid-2010 and by social groups or individuals in 77 countries. 

Both reports point to worrying trends regarding religious liberty, above all for Christians, but also for other religions.