There is unprecedented religious persecution around the globe. In recent years, the Pew Research Center has found increasing governmental and social hostility toward religious believers worldwide. For the last ten years, Christians have been harassed in more countries, including the United States, than any other religious group, and in 2016, one or more religious groups were harassed in 187 countries globally.

While the specific threats to religious freedom vary in type and intensity, one common source is the legal and cultural support for apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws, which often threaten the freedom to choose and/or change one's faith.

  • Apostasy laws punish people who “apostasize” and convert away from Islam. Across much of the Muslim world, apostasy laws—backed by social pressure—are used to deter apostasy and sometimes punish even allegations of the crime. These laws prevent Muslims from freely choosing their faith— whether Christianity or anything else.
  • Blasphemy laws generally prohibit insults to religion and are the most widespread of these three types of laws. In many places, while still on the books, such laws are no longer enforced or even used. But in other places, again in many Muslim majority countries, they are often abused when allegations of blasphemy are made against religious minorities—often with no evidence—to settle unrelated disputes and vendettas.
  • Anti-conversion laws, quite simply, prohibit people from converting to another religion. Primarily in place in parts of the Hindu and Buddhist world, anti-conversion laws are used by governments to maintain a majority of the population within their preferred religion.

While threats to religious freedom arise from other sources, these three types of laws and the cultural support behind them are major threats to the freedom to choose one’s faith—and thus to religious freedom worldwide.

Punishment for those convicted of violating such laws can include marriage annulment, property confiscation, prison sentences, or death sentences. A number of countries can impose the death penalty for violations of such laws, including: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Malaysia (in certain states), Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Additionally, a mere allegation of a violation often results in intense social hostility from one’s community and family members, who retaliate with anything from slight harassment all the way up to violence resulting in death.

Drafted out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) proclaims in Article 18 that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (emphasis added). The laws listed and described here, and the social acceptance behind them, are a direct threat to religious freedom as articulated in the UDHR.

FRC’s new publication Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Anti-Conversion Laws is a list of countries that have apostasy, blasphemy, and/or anti-conversion laws on the books, though not all such laws are still actively used. Moreover, some are not likely to be used or are effectively nullified by other legal measures or constitutional rights which take precedence. However, for purposes of understanding where these laws have been or are in place, they have been left in this publication.

Examples of enforcement and cultural impact are provided for some of the countries where these laws are still enforced or have influence. When we understand how these laws work, and how they serve as obstacles to religious freedom around the globe, we can better advocate for the freedom of all people worldwide.

Read the full report here.

Also, don’t miss a discussion on this new report with FRC President Tony Perkins and Travis Weber, the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty.