Pew Research Centre
05 October 2017
Most States Fund Activities of Official Religion
There also usually are financial benefits for official state religions. Among the 43 countries with an official religion, 98% provide funding or resources for educational programs, property or other religious activities.
More than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide funding or resources specifically for religious education programs or religious schools that disproportionately benefit the official religion. In Comoros, where the official state religion is Islam, the government funds an Islamic studies program, the Faculty of Arabic and Islamic Science, within the country’s only public university.27 Meanwhile, 12% of countries with an official religion provide this type of funding or resources for other religions as well. And only one country with an official religion – Tuvalu – provides no significant funding or resources for religious education programs or religious schools.
In many cases, governments also provide funding or resources for religious property, including for the maintenance, upkeep or repair of religious buildings or land. About half of countries with an official religion (51%) provide funding or resources for religious property that disproportionately benefits the official or preferred religion. In Bahrain, for example, Islam is the official religion, and the government funds all licensed mosques.28
Governments may also provide funding or resources for religious activities unrelated to education or property. These activities include – but are not necessarily limited to – providing media services, supporting worship or religious practices, or paying religious leaders’ wages.
Fully seven-in-ten (70%) countries with an official state religion provide funding or resources for these types of religious activities, primarily for the official religion. For example, in Norway, the Church of Norway was the official state religion and the government provided the salaries, benefits and pension plans of all church employees in 2015.29
Financial Benefits In Countries With Preferred Religions
By definition, all countries with preferred or favoured religions (but not official state religions) provide some practical benefits to those religions (see above). But when it comes to one of the most common kinds of benefits – states providing funding or resources to religious groups – there are wide variations in what governments provide and how they provide it.
Over half of countries with preferred religions (58%) provide funds or resources for religious education programs that mostly benefit the preferred religion. For example, in Turkey, where Islam is categorized as a preferred but not official religion, the government has assigned tens of thousands of students to state-run religious schools known as “imam hatip” schools, while limiting the number of students who can be admitted to public secondary schools. From 2003 to 2015, the number of students in the imam hatip schools rose from 63,000 to about 1 million, and some secular parents have voiced concern that this amounts to heavy-handed government support of religion through education.30
About a third of countries with preferred religions (28%) provide state funding or resources for religious education programs not only for the favoured religion but also for other religious groups. And 15% do not provide significant funding or resources for any religious education programs.
Fully one-third of countries with favoured religions (33%) provide funding or resources for religious buildings or property in a way that disproportionately benefits the favoured religion. In Burma (Myanmar), for example, Buddhism is the unofficial, favoured religion, and non-Buddhist religious groups reported difficulty repairing religious buildings and building new facilities.31 At the same time, a quarter of countries (25%) with a preferred religion also provide funding or resources for building or maintaining property belonging to other religious groups as well. Guatemala is one of these countries; the government provides tax exemptions for properties of all registered religious groups, while Catholicism is favoured by the government in other ways.32
Most countries with a preferred or favoured religion also provide funding or resources for religious activities unrelated to education or property, with 45% providing support predominantly for the favoured religion and 48% providing support for other groups as well. In Liberia, for instance, the government has provided tax exemptions and duty-free privileges to registered organizations, including missionary programs, religious charities and religious groups. This benefit was offered to all registered groups, and was not limited to Christians, the favoured religion in Liberia.33
Central And Eastern Europeans In Countries With Official Or Preferred Religions Are More Likely To Support Church-State Links
In Central and Eastern Europe, the relationship between church and state in a country is often reflected in public opinion on the topic. For example, people in countries with official or preferred religions are more likely to support government promotion of religious values and beliefs, as well as government funding of the dominant church; they also tend to believe religion is important to their sense of national belonging.
Pew Research Centre’s recent survey of 18 countries in Central and Eastern Europe – covering most, but not all, of the region – included 11 countries with official or preferred religions (usually Orthodox Christianity) and seven with no official or preferred faiths.34
Respondents in all 18 countries were asked whether they think their government should promote religious values and beliefs, or if religion should be kept separate from government policies. On balance, people in Central and Eastern European countries with no official or preferred religion are more likely to say religion should be kept separate from government policies (median of 68%) than are those who live in countries with an official or preferred religion (median of 50%).
Among countries with official or preferred religions, Poland is an exception to this pattern, because of its strong support for separation of church and state (70%). Relations between the Catholic Church and Polish government are enshrined in a concordat that, among other things, grants the Catholic Church unique privileges in church-state discussions. Polish adults appear to recognize this level of influence – three-quarters (75%) say religious leaders have at least some influence in political matters. Many Poles, however, are uncomfortable with it; a majority (65%) believe religious leaders should not have this much political influence.
Another survey question asked Central and Eastern Europeans about their attitudes toward government funding of churches. Across countries with an official or preferred religion, more people support governments giving financial support to the dominant church in the country (median of 53%) than in countries without an official or preferred religion (median of 39%).35 For example, in Armenia, a majority of respondents (62%) say the government should fund the Orthodox Church (the official state religion).
But two countries stand out: Greece and Poland. In Greece, where Orthodoxy is the official state religion, just 18% of people think the government should give financial support to the Orthodox Church. And in Poland, only a minority (28%) say the Catholic Church should receive financial support from the government.
Still, for many Central and Eastern Europeans – including Greeks and Poles – religion plays an important role in their sense of national belonging. Across the region, a median of 59% say being a member of the dominant denomination in the country is “very” or “somewhat” important in order to truly share their national identity – for example, to be “truly Greek” or “truly Polish.”
Again, these attitudes vary considerably when comparing countries that have an official or preferred religion with countries that do not have this type of church-state relationship. Across the surveyed countries with an official or preferred religion, a median of 66% say being a member of the dominant faith (e.g., Orthodoxy in Greece, Catholicism in Poland) is very or somewhat important to truly belong to the nationality. In countries without an official or preferred religion, fewer people (a median of 43%) feel this way.
Members of the official or preferred faith also are much more likely than members of other religions to think the dominant faith is an important element in national belonging. Across countries with an official or preferred religion, a median of 81% of members of the dominant faith say being a member of that faith is very or somewhat important for national identity. In contrast, only about a third (median of 31%) of people in those countries who are not members of the dominant faith think it is very or somewhat important.36
On some other issues, publics in Eastern Europe have similar views regardless of their country’s church-state relationship. There is no clear difference, for example, on views about democracy. In countries with or without official or preferred religions, similar shares of people view democracy as preferable to any other kind of government (medians of 47% and 46%, respectively). Similarly, on the topic of pluralism, medians of 50% in both types of countries say it is better if society consists of people from different nationalities, religions and cultures (as opposed to a homogeneous society).
Government Restrictions Higher In Countries with Official Or Preferred Religions
In some ways, states that have an official or preferred religion tend to behave differently from states that do not. Not only are they more likely to provide financial or legal benefits to a single religion, but they also are more likely to place a high level of government restrictions on other religious groups.
These restrictions are analyzed using the Government Restrictions Index (GRI), a 10-point scale measuring government laws, practices and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices, with a score of 10 indicating the highest level of restrictions.37 In countries with an official state religion, the median GRI score was 4.8 in 2015, compared with 2.8 in countries with preferred or favoured religions and 1.8 in countries with no official or preferred religion.38
This relationship holds true even when controlling for the countries’ population size, level of democracy and levels of social hostilities involving religion (because government restrictions may be a response to social hostilities).39 Taking all of these factors into account, states with an official religion still score, on average, 1.8 points higher on the Government Restrictions Index than states with no official or preferred religion.
One of the ways states with official or preferred religions restrict religion is through formally banning certain religious groups.40 Among the 34 countries in the world that have this kind of ban in place, 44% are countries with an official state religion, while 24% are countries that have a preferred or favoured religion. Banning of religious groups is much less common among states that do not have an official or preferred religion, with only three countries in this category – the Bahamas, Jamaica and Singapore – maintaining formal bans on particular groups in 2015.41
Again, this relationship holds even when taking population size, democratic processes and social hostilities into account. In other words, countries with an official or preferred religion are more likely to enact bans on some religious groups than countries without an official or preferred religion – regardless of how large a country is, how democratic it is or how widespread social hostilities involving religion are within its borders.
In Malaysia, for example, Islam is the official religion, and a 1996 fatwa required the country to follow Sunni Islam teachings in particular. Other Muslim sects, like Shiite, Ahmadiyya and Al-Arqam Muslims, are banned as deviant sects of Islam.42. These groups are not allowed to assemble, worship or speak freely about their faith.
States with official or preferred religions also are more likely than other states to interfere with worship or other religious practices. Among these countries, 78% interfered with the worship of religious groups in 2015 to some degree (e.g., in a few cases, many cases or a blanket prohibition). By comparison, 46% of countries with neither an official or preferred religion interfered with worship practices.43
For example, in Peru – where Catholicism is the preferred religion – Protestant soldiers reported that the military’s lack of Protestant chaplains made finding Protestant church services difficult. Meanwhile, Muslims and Jews in Peru complained that non-Catholic religious holidays were not provided to students or employees.44
1. This analysis includes the 198 countries and territories typically studied in Pew Research Centre’s annual reports on global restrictions on religion, plus North Korea. Although North Korea is not included in the annual reports because of the difficulty of obtaining reliable, up-to-date information on events inside its borders, information on its overall policy toward religion is readily available. For more detail on why North Korea often has been excluded from other analyses, see the Methodology section of Pew Research Center’s April 2017 report, “Global Restrictions on Religion Rise Modestly in 2015, Reversing Downward Trend.” ↩
2. While these countries may not legally recognize a religion as the state religion or give benefits to one group over others, they may restrict religion in other ways. To examine these actions, Pew Research Centre conducts a separate, broader, analysis of government restrictions on religion each year. For the latest report, see “Global Restrictions on Religion Rise Modestly in 2015, Reversing Downward Trend.” ↩
3. Constitute. 2004. “Afghanistan.” ↩
4. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Afghanistan.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
5. Constitute. 2003. “Lao People’s Democratic Republic.” ↩
6. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Laos.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
7. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Russia.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
8. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “France.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
9. Constitute. 2004. “China.” ↩
10. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “China (Includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau).” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
11. Israel’s basic law defines the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Although “Jewish” could be interpreted in this context as referring to religion, ethnicity or both, Israel is coded as having an official religion in part because the Israeli government gives legal authority to the chief rabbinate and provides special benefits to Judaism, such as support for religious study. ↩
12. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Nepal.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
13. Two of these countries – Lithuania and Serbia – also include Judaism and Islam as “traditional” or favored religions. ↩
14. Constitute. 2013. “Georgia.” ↩
15. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Georgia.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
16. A constitutional amendment in 2012 began the process of separating the Church of Norway from the state, although the provisions of the amendment did not formally take effect until Jan. 1, 2017. The amended constitution refers to the church as the “Established Church of Norway” and continues to stipulate that the king must be of the Evangelical-Lutheran faith. The state continued to provide financial support for the church and paid the salaries of church staff until Jan. 1, 2017. The data in this report are based on state religions in 2015, and therefore include the Church of Norway as an official state religion. See Hofverberg, Elin. Feb. 3, 2017. “Norway: State and Church Separate After 500 Years.” The Law Library of Congress. ↩
17. Constitute. 2010. “Djibouti.” Also see U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Djibouti.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
18. Constitute. 2003. “Tajikistan.” ↩
19. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Tajikistan.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
20. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Jordan.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
21. Constitute. 1989. “Iran (Islamic Republic of).” ↩
22. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Iran.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
23. Constitute. 2002. “Monaco.” ↩
24. U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Monaco.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
25. Constitute. 2013. “Saudi Arabia.” ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Saudi Arabia.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Comoros.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Bahrain.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Norway.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Turkey.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Burma.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Guatemala.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Liberia.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
Among these countries, Lithuania and Serbia both have multiple preferred religions, including various Christian denominations. ↩
In Bosnia, respondents were asked about public funding for regional churches; results are not analyzed here because the question was not directly comparable to what was asked in other countries. ↩
Lithuania and Serbia have multiple preferred faiths, however, the dominant faiths in these countries are Catholicism and Orthodoxy, respectively. ↩
The Government Restrictions Index is typically comprised of 20 indicators. One of these indicators focuses on whether the government favours a specific religion, including whether it gives funds or other benefits to the religion. Since this is highly correlated with whether the state has an official or favoured religion, the index was recalculated without this indicator for the purposes of this analysis. The scores for the remaining 19 items were added and divided by 1.9 to result in a new overall GRI score between 0 and 10, with 10 indicating the highest level of government restriction on religion. ↩
This analysis does not include the last category of state-religion relationships: states with no official or preferred religion that are hostile toward religious institutions. This is because the elements that help classify a country in this category are based on elements in the GRI. In other words, states with these state-religion relationships will, by definition, always score highly on the GRI; it is an endogenous relationship. At the same time, other countries may have an official or preferred religion for reasons completely separate from the GRI indicators. ↩
Data for population sizes in 2015 from UN population estimates. See United Nations Population Division. June 17, 2013. “World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision.” UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Data on democracy levels come from the Polity IV Project; see The Polity Project. “About Polity.” Center for Systemic Peace. Data for social hostilities come from original Pew Research Center analyses. ↩
This includes banning a group for non-security reasons, or banning a group for both security and non-security reasons. It does not include banning only for security reasons (even though there may be some situations where states use security reasons as justification for banning a group when there may be other motives, including religious or political ones). ↩
Jamaica maintains a ban on Obeah, an Afro-Caribbean shamanistic religion, although it is not actively enforced. ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Malaysia.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
Again, this analysis does not include countries with no official or preferred religion that are hostile to religious groups, since interference with the worship of religious groups factors into the classification of these countries as “hostile.” ↩
U.S. Department of State. Aug. 10, 2016. “Peru.” International Religious Freedom Report for 2015. ↩
The findings are for immediate release and can be found at: http://www.pewforum.org/2017/10/03/many-countries-favor-specific-religions-officially-or-unofficially
Part one of the article:
Pew Research Centre is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Centre is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder.