From Bans to Barriers: 16 Religious Restrictions Around the World

SharePinEmailNot all religions are free to practice their faith. Across the world, restrictions on religion can be found. These might be through government policy, legal constraints, or societal pressures, which impact religious freedom, worship practices, and the ability to convert. For over ten years, the Pew Center, a nonpartisan U.S. think-tank that provides information on…

Not all religions are free to practice their faith. Across the world, restrictions on religion can be found. These might be through government policy, legal constraints, or societal pressures, which impact religious freedom, worship practices, and the ability to convert.

For over ten years, the Pew Center, a nonpartisan U.S. think-tank that provides information on public opinion, social issues, and demographic trends shaping the world, has been tracking and analyzing global patterns in restrictions on religion.

Religious Restrictions Around the World

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Here are some of the leading findings about religious restrictions in regions around the world.

The Middle East and North Africa

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The Middle East and North Africa have some of the highest levels of restrictions on faith.


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Due to ongoing civil war, government control over religious practices, the repression of dissent, and sectarian conflict between different religious and ethnic groups, Syria has very high religious restrictions.


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Levels of religious restrictions in Egypt remain high. For example, the law stipulates that Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men. For men who are not Muslims, they must convert to Isma if they wish to marry a Muslim woman. Jewish and Christian women are not required to convert to Islam if they want to marry Muslim men.


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Like the Middle East and North Africa, the Asia-Pacific has high levels of religious restrictions due to sectarian conflict, authoritarian regimes, and nationalist movements that affect religious expression and freedom of worship.

“Very High” Levels

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In 2021, four countries – Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and Afghanistan – were seen to have “very high” levels of social hostility and Government restrictions involving religion.


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In Pakistan, Shiite Hazaras and Ahmadi Muslims faced multiple targeted attacks by individual assailants and militant groups.


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In Afghanistan, the Islamic fundamentalist group known as the Taliban seized control of the country and pursued minority religions that failed to comply with their rigid version of Islamic law.  


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With rising nationalism, many European countries impose religious restrictions on their citizens. Restrictions can include the banning of religious symbols, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments, and legal restraints on religious practices.


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The Pew Center report found that France has high levels of religious restrictions. In 2004, a law was introduced in France banning ostentatious religious symbols and garments in public schools, including large Christian crosses, Jewish yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, and Islamic hijabs. The state effectively requires religious neutrality in public spaces in France.


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The Pew Research Center report found that Germany has moderate to high levels of restrictions on religion. While the Constitution guarantees religious freedom, some regulations can be deemed religiously restrictive. For example, the Government imposes restrictions on religious symbols in public institutions, including bans on headscarves for teachers in certain regions. The country also monitors and restricts activities of groups deemed extremist, including certain sects and radical Islamist organizations. Scientology also faces significant scrutiny and legal challenges. Despite these restrictions, Germany supports religious pluralism, and various faith communities generally practice freely within the legal framework.


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The history of religious freedom in Russia is complex and fraught. But as of 2023, Russia became a majority Russian Orthodox society, and minority religions within its borders are essentially protected by the Constitution of Russia. Whether protection is carried out in practice, however, is widely disputed by the international community.

“Worse violators” of religious restrictions

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 A report conducted by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which was created by Congress to make recommendations about global religious freedom, found that Russia is one of the world’s “worst violators” of religious freedom. The USCIRF report states that “religious freedom conditions in Russia deteriorated” in 2020, with the government targeting “nontraditional” religious minorities through fines, detentions, and criminal charges.


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By contrast, inclusive policies, societal tolerance, and effective measures against discrimination allow diverse religious practices and harmonious coexistence among different religious communities, Portugal has low levels of repression involving religious expression.

United Kingdom

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In the United Kingdom, legislation establishes that the Church of England is the nation’s state church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of one’s faith or belief.

Despite the United Kingdom upholding laws that prevent incitement to religious hatred, the country is not immune to examples of freedom of religion being undermined.

Michaela School Ruling

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In April 2024, a judge ruled in favor of a high school in London on three grounds relating to the school’s prayer rituals policy. The school was taken to the high court by a Muslim student following allegations that the school had imposed a ban on all prayers and worship. The student argued that the ban was a ‘breach of her right and freedom to manifest her religious beliefs.’ This was rejected because the pupil had, ‘chosen the school knowing of its strict regime; on the evidence she was able to move to a suitable school that would allow her to pray at lunchtime; and, in any event, she was able to perform Qada prayers to mitigate the fact that she was not able to pray at the allotted time.’

Critics of the ruling believe that the school, by imposing a discriminatory rule upon students who pray, appears to be in breach of a series of international and domestic human rights laws that guarantee freedom of religious practice, specifically the right to “manifest” one’s religious belief.

United States

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The Pew Center’s research found that the United States has moderate levels of religious restrictions. Due to constitutional protections for religious freedom, restrictions are relatively low. However, challenges do exist, such as zoning laws that affect religious buildings, debates over religious exemptions in healthcare and employment, and discrimination against minority religions.

The Pew Research Center study ranked the US somewhere in the middle of the nearly 200 countries analyzed in the report. It found that compared to neighboring Canada, the United States has more extensive restrictions and social hostilities regarding religion. However, compared to Mexico, as well as several Western European countries, including Germany and Italy, the US has fewer religious restrictions.

More Needs to be Done

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While some countries are making inroads in lifting religious restrictions and being more tolerant of different faiths, more needs to be done to protect human rights, promote tolerance, reduce conflict, and ensure freedom of belief and expression for all individuals.

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