Global Religious Intolerance Up - Even in U.S. Restrictions Include Attire, Facilities, Says an Annual Study by Pew Forum

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Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The recent spasm of religious violence in the Middle East is part of a larger pattern: A major survey released Thursday finds official and unofficial hostility toward religious freedom rising in every corner of the world - including in the U.S., which is no longer ranked among world's most tolerant nations.

The annual study, compiled by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, concluded that three-fourths of the world's population live in countries that impose significant political and social restrictions on religion, with the United States being moved out of list of countries with the best records on religious tolerance.

During the latest year studied, the U.S. moved from the low category of government restrictions on religion to the moderate category for the first time, Pew said in a news release outlining key findings of the report.

The U.S. saw a rise for the first time, particularly at the state and local level, where incidents restricting religious groups from practicing their faith were up.

Among those problems cited in the U.S. as keeping people from practicing their religion, were restrictions on the wearing of religious attire or symbols, obtaining zoning or building permits for new religious school and houses of worship, a climate of increasing social hostilities including a rise in religion-related terrorist attacks and an increase in workplace discrimination complaints based on religion.

Among major religions studied, Christians, Jews and Buddhists saw four-year highs in the number of countries where harassment by government or by individuals or groups rose. By mid-2010, Christians in 111 countries saw increases in social or government harassment, while Jews in 68 countries faced similar problems.

The study marks the third time that the Pew Forum has sought to measure religious restrictions. It uses two indexes to score 197 countries and territories - containing nearly all the world population - and charts restrictions due to government actions as well as acts of violence and intimidation by private individuals, organizations and social groups. …