Pew Study On Religion Finds Increased Harassment Of Jews

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Boys in Uppsala, Sweden, read supportive messages placed at the entrance of a mosque following an attack in January. A new Pew study finds that religious intolerance is a global problem, with Muslims facing more hostility from individuals, and Christians from governments. Targeting of Jews, the study found, has gotten worse over in recent years. (AP)
Boys in Uppsala, Sweden, read supportive messages placed at the entrance of a mosque following an attack in January. A new Pew study finds that religious intolerance is a global problem, with Muslims facing more hostility from individuals, and Christians from governments. Targeting of Jews, the study found, has gotten worse over in recent years. (AP)

Updated at 2 p.m. ET.

This week, a man was sentenced to die in Saudi Arabia because he renounced his faith in Islam; a Hindu leader in India made a new accusation against Mother Teresa; a mosque near Bethlehem was set on fire.

It's hardly news that religious differences lead to conflict, nor is it surprising that governments try to restrict religious practice or favor some religions over others. But a report from the Pew Research Center released Thursday shows the pervasiveness of religious intolerance around the world in 2013 — and finds that the targeting of Jews, in particular, has worsened over the past seven years.

About a quarter of all countries are dealing with high levels of religious hostilities within their borders, according to the annual report, and those countries are home to 3 out of 4 people on the planet.

China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Russia — all with big populations — are among the countries where the government either highly restricts religious practice or where there is a high degree of social harassment, including discrimination, vandalism against religious property and attacks on minorities.

The Pew report, which is based on data and reports from 2013, finds that Muslims and Christians face comparable levels of hostility, though Christians are harassed more often by governments, Muslims more often by individuals.

One group faces increased hostility: Jews. Each year since 2007, when Pew began these surveys, the targeting of Jews around the world has gotten worse.

European Jews, in particular, encounter intolerance, says Peter Henne, the lead Pew researcher on the report.

"There's a pretty marked harassment of Jews in Europe," he says. "They're harassed in 76 percent of countries in Europe, which is higher than the number of countries in which they're harassed in other regions."

The United States does not get off the hook in the Pew report. It ranks the U.S. as having a "moderate" level of religious harassment, on par with such countries as France, Slovakia and Mongolia.

"In terms of what we see in the United States, there are some issues with land use, churches or mosques trying to build or expand their site and being blocked by local governments," Henne says. "There are some tensions in prisons — limits on prisoners' ability to convert or to use things like tobacco in religious ceremonies."

Overall, the level of religious harassment in 2013 is about the same as it was the year before, according to Pew. But with only seven years of data, it's hard to see any historical trend.

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In the last week, a man was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia because he renounced his faith in Islam, a Hindu leader said Mother Teresa views charity as a cover for missionary work, a mosque near Bethlehem was set on fire. A report from the Pew Research Center released today finds about a quarter of all countries are now dealing with high levels of religious hostilities. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: It's hardly news that governments favor some religions over others or try to restrict religious practice, nor is it surprising that religious differences lead to conflict. But the Pew study shows the pervasiveness of these hostilities. According to the report, 3 out of 4 people on the planet live in countries where there's a high degree of religious intolerance. China, India, Pakistan, Russia, all with big populations, are among the countries where the government either highly restricts religious practice or where there's a high degree of social harassment - discrimination, vandalism against religious property, attacks on minorities.

The Pew report, based on research through 2013, shows Muslims and Christians face comparable levels of hostility - Christians harassed more often by governments, Muslims more often by individuals. The one group facing increased hostility - Jews. Each year since Pew began these surveys, the targeting of Jews around the world has gotten worse. And where is it especially bad? Peter Henne is the lead Pew researcher on the report.

PETER HENNE: There's a pretty marked harassment of Jews in Europe. They're harassed in 76 percent of countries in Europe, which is higher than the number of countries in which they're harassed in other regions.

GJELTEN: Hostility against Jews in 3 out of 4 European countries - the United States does not get off the hook. The Pew report ranks the United States as having a moderate level of religious harassment on par with such countries as France, Slovakia and Mongolia.

HENNE: In terms of what we see in the United States, there's some issues with land use - churches or mosques trying to build or expand their site and being blocked by local governments. There are some tensions in prisons - limits on prisoner's ability to convert or to use things like tobacco in religious ceremonies.

GJELTEN: Overall, according to Pew, the level of religious harassment is about the same as in the previous year studied - perhaps a bit less, but it's hard to see any bigger historical trend. Pew researchers have only been tracking these problems since 2007. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.