WASHINGTON – Countries with Christian backgrounds have the best religious freedom record, according to the initial findings of an extensive report on the status of religious freedom in the world on Monday.
A glimpse into the findings of Religious Freedom in the World 2007, the upcoming book to be released next year, showed that countries with a Christian background were ranked highest for level of religious freedom observed in the country. The four countries given the highest religious freedom rating of one are Hungary, Ireland, Estonia, and the United States.
On the other hand, countries run by atheist government such as communist China, Vietnam, and North Korea were ranked in the bottom two tiers (ratings of six and seven).
Officially atheist countries were joined at the bottom of the religious freedom pole by countries with Islam background such as Pakistan, Palestinian areas, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Turkmenistan.
"In general, either extreme religious or extreme secular state together comprise most of the world's religiously restricted parties," commented Paul Marshall, general editor of Religious Freedom in the World 2007, during a press conference Monday.
Marshall is the senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. He is also the author of over 20 books on religion and politics, especially religious freedom.
"In the Muslim majority world, one faces continuing problems in religious freedom," Marshall noted. However, he pointed out that "one needs to be careful not to overdo this."
The survey analyzing over 100 countries and territories found anomalies in the correlation between religious freedom and a country's religious background.
For example, the African nations of Mali and Senegal – both having an Islamic background – ranked higher in terms of religious freedom than countries with Christian background such as Germany, France, Greece, Kenya, and the Philippines.
Yet Mali and Senegal were the rare exceptions; almost all the countries listed in the top three tiers for religious freedom were Christian nations and the countries with the worst religious freedom were Muslim-dominated countries or Buddhist-dominated ones headed by secular governments.
In addition, the survey also details strong linkage between levels of religious freedom and degree of economic freedom and enterprise.
Survey findings discovered a correlation between a country's low religious freedom status and low economic freedom. In other words, a country with religious freedom violation tended to also have restricted economic freedom.
Other findings in the survey include: violations of religious freedom worldwide are massive, widespread, and, in many parts of the world, intensifying; radical Islam is the largest growing threat to religious freedom; and events in the past year in Iraq caused the country to rank among those with the worst religious freedom records for the first time since the era of Saddam Hussein.
Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, believes using political leverage to press a country to honor the basic right of religious freedom is more effective than inter-religious dialogue.
Shea explained to The Christian Post that many times religious dialogue occurs with the wrong people who have no control over sectarian violence. Moreover, the government of religious freedom violating states often feign to be interested in negotiating to "buy time" to consolidate its power rather than having genuine interest to change, Shea pointed out.
The Hudson Institute's The Center for Religious Freedom is the sponsor of the upcoming book Religious Freedom in the World 2007 to be release next year. Seventy-nine religious freedom experts and scholars contributed to the compilation of essays and analyses of 102 countries and territories.
Additional comments during the presentation of the survey's initial findings were provided by Brian Grim, senior research fellow in Religion and World Affairs at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; Theodore Malloch, founder and chairman of Spiritual Enterprise Institute; Zainab Al-Suwaij, co-founder and executive director of the American Islamic Congress; and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.