First Plenary Session – Brian Grimm

Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis
ICLRS Research Advisor

Brian J. Grim joined us from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life where he is the Director of Cross-National Data. Although 76% of the world’s people believe it important to live in a country in which they enjoy religious freedom, only 62% believe it important that others live in a country with religious freedom. A “religious intolerance gap” results in which people are “unwilling to offer religious freedom to others.” Mr. Grim next presented many astonishing statistics derived from various human rights reports, constitutions, and other sources. Although a seemingly one-third of the world’s countries have high or very high government-imposed restrictions on religious freedom, 70% of the world’s population live under these high restrictions. Such restrictions increased in 12% of the countries and decreased in 6% during the years 2006-2009. France now bans the Burka and imposes a fine; Uzbekistan bans Christian and Muslim literature. Of note is that Christians face harassment in 130 countries, Muslims in 117 countries, members of folk religions in 84 countries, Jews in 75 countries, and Hindus in 72 countries. The harassment of Muslims in the Middle East stems mostly from majority groups harassing minority groups while Jews face mostly social hostilities, not government-imposed restrictions.

Similarly, in the US 1400 hate crimes are annually reported to the authorities. As opposed to China, with its very high government restrictions and low social hostilities, India has low government restrictions and high social hostilities. Mr. Grim’s correlations also show that religion is related to terrorism in 37% of the world’s countries. Similarly, where anti-blasphemy laws are imposed and enforced, government restrictions increase and religious-related violence results. Using statistical tests, he deduced the “Religion Violence Cycle”: social hostilities against religious freedom lead to government restrictions on religious freedom that lead to violence. In contrast, an increase in religious freedom correlates with an increase in civil liberties, gender empowerment, and political and other freedoms and a decrease in GDP spent on military affairs. Thus, even from a secular perspective, a plethora of economic benefits justify protecting religious freedom. Mr. Grim sees that the challenge for modern states is to recognize the religious dimension of society and the secularists who ignore religions (“blindness”).