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Far from making nations safer, research shows religious persecution and conflict is likely to increase as religious freedoms are taken away and social hostilities push religious minorities outside the mainstream of society.
In their book, “The Price of Freedom Denied,” Grim and Finke found some six in seven nations with populations of at least 2 million had documented cases of people being physically abused or displaced from their homes because of religious persecution.
The more severe the levels of religious restriction, the greater the risk of violent persecution, the authors found. For example, 44 percent of governments interfering with the right to worship had more than 200 cases of violent religious persecution; only 9 percent of countries with freedom of worship had similar rates of abuse.
What does contribute to a civil society, research indicates, are legal protections for religious freedoms that are backed up by independent judiciaries and state governments committed to upholding the laws.
But public attitudes and related cultural and social factors also are critical to reducing hostilities and protecting religious freedom.
In a study of religiously motivated violence, Finke and Penn State researcher Jaime Harris found that social restrictions on religion, even more than government restrictions, held the most direct and powerful relationship with conflict and violence.
In practical terms, while individuals may have the right to make an anti-Islamic video or demonize immigrants from a minority religion at a public rally, one effective response is for people in that nation to raise their voices in response, combating prejudice and defending the rights of religious freedom shared by all groups, Finke noted in an interview.
These profiles in courage include those in the U.S. civil rights movement who put themselves at risk in the face of immense public hostility and, more recently, the witness of some Egyptian Muslims protecting Coptic Orthodox churches amid post-revolutionary violence directed at the religious minority.
In a world where religious tensions in one country can so quickly assume global significance, each person in each nation still has the ability to make a difference.
ln his presidential address giving an overview of decades of research on religious restrictions, Finke concluded that “when freedoms are uniformly secured, the freedoms for even the smallest minority become the freedoms for all.
“Simply put, I have more motivation to support your religious freedoms when your freedoms are my freedoms.”
Cast in more theological terms, the key to a more just and peaceful society where the newest members are treated with equal respect and dignity may come down to this one principle:
How we are able to love our neighbor as ourselves.
David Briggs, who lives in Connecticut, is a veteran religion writer and executive director of the International Association of Religion Journalists. He wrote this column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), a resource for religion scholars.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.