Religious Persecution Today – Being the enemy of the state

Religious Persecution - The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)

Because you hold a specific religious belief, you are deemed to be an enemy of the state and will go to jail until you recant.

That would never happen today?

Except it does.

There are 41 countries that ban a specific religious group by law. Details are available via a Pew survey dated Nov 15, 2021. It’s worth taking a look to see what the bigger picture is out there.

Here is a brief distillation of it.

Who gets banned and Why?

Via the report we learn that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’is were among the most frequently banned groups. Ahmadis also are commonly targeted.

Well hey, that’s OK then, I don’t hold those beliefs. Since they are wrong, then banning them is just fine … right?

Oh come now, you might indeed not believe what they believe, but freedom of thought is a rather basic principle.

Human attributes that we embrace include tolerance, empathy, decency, and compassion. Those are not just words, they actually mean something. Rejecting them has dire consequences. Many in the past fled across the Atlantic seeking freedom from religious persecution. The embrace of religious tolerance is not simply an abstract ideal, humanity arrived at that destination via many rivers of blood.

Often what drives intolerance is insecurity. In the marketplace of ideas, some fear the emergence of better or different ideas, hence they seek to rig the market by suppressing anything and everything that is not them.

What is going on out there?

The Pew report explains …

The Middle East-North Africa region had the highest share of countries (55%, or 11 out of 20 countries in the region) with bans on religion-related groups in 2019. Asia and the Pacific – the largest region in the study, with 50 nations – had the greatest number of countries with bans (17 out of 50 countries, or 34% of the region). Sub-Saharan Africa had eight countries with bans (representing about 17% of the 48 states in the region), Europe had three (or about 7% of the region’s 45 countries) and the Americas had two nations with such bans in place (representing about 6% of the region’s 35 countries).

They also have an illustration.

Are there really any surprises there?

It actually gets a tad more complicated. As observed by Pew, governments may restrict or target specific groups within their borders but not formally ban them. That means that they would not be counted as banned. What Pew are saying is that their report is not the full scope because they don’t cover any of that.

What happens in practise?

These are not just laws that are ignored, there are many human rights abuses in play.

Here are a few quick examples …

… hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia faced detentions, travel restrictions, investigations and raids on their homes…

…Baha’is faced multiple restrictions and were barred from certain types of work, especially in the food industry, because they were considered “unclean.” …

…Egypt has had long-standing bans on both Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses, denying them benefits and the ability to perform routine tasks – such as banking or registering for school …

…Ahmadi community leaders in Pakistan reported that 11 individuals were charged for practicing their faith and that six of them were arrested on blasphemy charges. According to Ahmadi leaders, some Pakistani government agencies also used a 2018 court decision to deny Ahmadis national identity cards….

…Uzbekistan criminalizes activities by unregistered religious groups, which are considered to be “illegal,” and designates certain Islamic groups to be extremist and therefore “prohibited.”  Members and organizers of illegal religious groups can be imprisoned up to five years, and those in prohibited groups can be jailed for up to 20 years…


There is lots more where all that came from.

But I don’t agree with the banned beliefs, they are wrong?

That’s fine.

You might indeed, for example, not embrace the religious ideas that the Amish embrace, and consider their rejection of cars and electricity as utterly insane. Your stance would be wholly reasonable. I also suspect you don’t have any problem with the Amish living as they choose to live.

The essence of it all is this.

Ideas don’t have rights, criticising them is fine.

People do have rights, discriminating against people for holding different beliefs is wrong.

What about Official Religious Discrimination in the US?

We would never legally discriminate on the basis of religion, it is in the first amendment .. right?


There are seven states in the US that legally ban people from holding an official office on the sole basis of religion.

Does that surprise you?

Article IX Section 1 of the Constitution of Tennessee states …

“no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature.”

Section 3 also amused me. You get banned from holding office if you fight a duel. I guess that dates this for you.

That’s one state, what others are guilty?

There are 7 states that explicitly and legally ban non-religious people from holding office …(via here)

Arkansas Article 19, Section 1
“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.”[110]

Maryland Article 37
“That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.”[111]

Mississippi Article 14, Section 265
“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.”[112]

North Carolina Article 6, Section 8
“The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.”[113]

South Carolina Article 17, Section 4
“No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.”[114]

Tennessee Article 9, Section 2
“No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”[115]

Texas Article 1, Section 4
“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”[116]

I should perhaps also make it clear that the above legal mandates at a state level are unenforceable because they conflict with the First Amendment which takes precedence.

If that is true then does the above matter?

Yes it does. This is religious prejudice enshrined in law.

How can we possibly criticise religious discrimination within other nation states without first cleaning up our own laws?

If you ran a nation state, would you ban any religious group?

This last bit is here to seed the comments.

I’m assuming that you believe in freedom of thought. Generally most nations, not all, embrace the concept. We are all familiar with the first amendment. I’ve already mentioned it, but for total clarity, here it is …

laws may not be made that interfere with religion “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

OK, let’s now test your resolve regarding this.

If you could do so, would be ban any of the following:

  • The megachurch pastors who are clearly operating a scam to enrich themselves and fund a very lavish lifestyle. How do you work out who really believes and who is simply running a con, where would you draw the line? Perhaps we simply insist they become financially transparent and file their accounts so that all can see where every cent goes. Perhaps we just roll our eyes and consider it a tax on stupidity.
  • Scientology – a weird cult founded by a SiFi author and is clearly, to those not in it, total bullshit. Would you ban that, not because you are biased against batshit crazy beliefs, but simply as a consumer protection move? You can’t sell fake goods without facing legal consequences, so would you permit fake beliefs to thrive? How do you then work out what is and is not fake?
  • Strands of belief that nurture and encourage violence against others. Yes, various strands of extreme Islam come to mind, but what about home grown Fundamentalist extremism that nurtures violence? How would you decide who to ban. Would it be those that use violent rhetoric or would you wait until they do something violent?
  • Are there any other religious groups you would ban?

I’m not trolling, I’m really interested and curious to see what others think?

Further Reading

The Pew report is here, it is an interesting read.

2 thoughts on “Religious Persecution Today – Being the enemy of the state”

  1. “If I ran a nation state, would I ban …”

    Yes. I would ban groups encouraging violence against other people and/or destruction of property. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.

    There will always be thought groups which will advocate that some other group ought not exist. OK to think that, not OK to take any physical action in that direction.

    Otherwise, I would encourage diversity of thought.


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