International News

New Religious Freedom Report Shows Attacks Growing Worldwide

Sun shines through a statue of Christ on a grave marker alongside an American flag at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in Appleton, Wis., in this 2018 photo.  (CNS photo/Bradley Birkholz)

WASHINGTON — A report issued June 22 by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic international aid organization, said that religious freedom rights were violated in 61 countries, impacting more than 4 billion people.

The study, Religious Freedom in the World Report 2023, shows that religious persecution around the world has increased since January 2021, while attackers, including oppressive governments, have not faced any negative consequences. 

The group’s report, published every two years since 1999, is the only nongovernmental report on global religious freedom that covers all faiths. The organization’s U.S. office is in Brooklyn.

Its findings show that 47 of the countries with religious freedom violations have gotten worse since the last report two years ago. 

The report shows that since 2021, people have been killed or abducted for their faith in 40 countries, and places of worship or religious properties have been attacked or damaged in 34 countries. 

The problem of attacks on religious freedom is particularly dire for religious minorities that face the threat of extinction in some nations, but religious persecution also affects major religious groups in some countries, such as Nigeria and Nicaragua.

Religious freedom violations range from armed terror groups to authoritarian governments that are rarely brought to justice or criticized by the international community, the report points out. 

It places countries on a “red” list that have the most religious persecution, hate crimes, and religiously motivated violence. Twenty-eight countries made this list, including 13 African countries. Other countries on this list are Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia. 

Thirty-three countries were listed in the “orange” category, which denotes the existence of discrimination. The situation worsened in 13 of these countries in the past two years. Cuba, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey are on this list.

The report’s final category is called “under observation” and includes 23 countries where religious intolerance, discrimination, and episodes of persecution have been increasing. Countries on this list include Russia, Ukraine, Chile, Mexico, and several African countries. 

The report points out that persecution against Muslims is globally on the rise and that incidents of antisemitism have increased in Europe. 

Half of the countries with the most severe restrictions on religious freedom are in Africa, where there has been an increase in jihadist activity. In Asia, the Chinese government continues to try to exert totalitarian control over all areas of society, including religion. 

In Western countries, the report notes that the harm to religious freedom was primarily in the form of harassment, legal sanctions, or loss of jobs for individuals who expressed different views based on religious reasons. 

Regina Lynch, executive president of Aid to the Church in Need International, said in a statement that the main purpose of the group’s report is to “motivate people to get involved and help those suffering from religious persecution through prayer, sharing information, speaking up for victims, engaging politicians, and keeping informed about the reality on the ground in different parts of the world.”

She said the report “seeks only to provide information and analysis about the abuse of this fundamental human right worldwide. It is a tool. The tool is only as good as those who take it up, share it with others, and work to effect change.”