Restrictions on Religion Are on the Rise in US

by Mark Pattison

WASHINGTON (CNS) – The increase of restrictions on religion are up worldwide, and, for the first time, those restrictions increased markedly in the U.S., according to a new Pew report.

For the United States, it was the first time in the study’s four-year history that both government restrictions and social hostility were up by at least one point on a scale of zero to 10, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which issued the study Sept. 20. The United States was one of 16 countries with such large measurable increases in both criteria.

The increases pushed the U.S. from a ranking of “low” to “moderate” in terms of restrictions on religion, according to the study, “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion.”

The period studied was mid-2009 to mid-2010.

On the 10-point scale, social hostilities in the United States climbed from 2.0 to 3.4, while government restrictions jumped from 1.6 to 2.7. The government restrictions score in each of the past three years had been 1.6, while the social hostilities number fell between 1.8 and 2.0.

In terms of government restrictions, the Pew study found 51 cases of governments applying zoning laws or regulations to prevent religious groups from building houses of worship, schools or other facilities. Of those 51 instances, 31 involved Christian denominations.

Oklahoma voters approved a change to the state constitution restricting the use of Islamic law, or sharia, in the state in November, 2009, but a federal appeals court struck down the measure last January. The federal Justice Department had to intervene on behalf of a Sikh prisoner in California who was under threat of having his facial hair cut off.

High-profile incidents dominated the social hostilities category, including the November, 2009 shooting spree by Army Maj. Nidal Hasan that killed 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas; the “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried set off a bomb while aboard a Detroit-bound flight in December, 2009; and the May, 2010 bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born resident of Bridgeport, Conn.

Also, residents near Murfreesboro, Tenn., tried to block construction of a mosque; although the mosque opened in August, a federal court challenge remains.

Employment discrimination complaints to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose more than 10 percent, from 3,386 to 3,790, but the number the EEOC determined had “reasonable cause” to suggest religious discrimination more than doubled.