RFI FORIS Scholar Discusses New Book on Government Discrimination Against Religious Minorities and Their Institutions

November 27, 2019

At an event on November 20, 2019, sponsored by RFI’s Freedom of Religious Institutions in Society (FORIS) Project, Dr. Jonathan Fox explained the rise of discrimination against religious minorities across the world since 1990. Dr. Fox—who serves as director of the Religion and State Project at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and is a FORIS scholar—described various types of government discrimination against religious minorities, as outlined in his forthcoming book, Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me: Why Governments Discriminate against Minorities (292 pages, Cambridge University Press, February 2020).

During the presentation, Dr. Fox provided an overview of his book’s findings involving 183 countries and 771 religious minorities. He found that governments discriminate against at least one religious minority in 158 of the 183 countries studied. He sought to address two main questions: which governments are more likely to discriminate, and which religious minorities are they more likely to discriminate against? He found that governments that do discriminate, do so in quite disparate ways.

One of the findings..[from] this book and earlier research is governments that discriminate tend to discriminate unequally. That means some minorities get it worse or differently than others.

Dr. Fox also offered a basic definition for government-based religious discrimination (GRD):

It is restrictions placed by governments or their agents on religious practices or institutions of religious minorities that are not placed on the majority religion. That is, stuff done specifically to minorities and not the majority.

The event, hosted at RFI’s new office space on Capitol Hill, included a reception and Q&A for the guests.

The event, hosted at RFI’s new office space on Capitol Hill, included a reception and Q&A for the guests.

He then looked at various forms of GRD, distinguishing and addressing a total of 35 in his book, to include those that target religious practices, religious institutions and clergy, and conversion and proselytizm, among others.  For example, the book examines the ability of religious minorities to display their religious beliefs publicly and to worship corporately (e.g., registration requirements for religious institutions, accessibility of permits for building houses of worship, etc.). Dr. Fox’s book analyzes not only the presence and forms of GRD in 183 countries around the world but also the severity of that discrimination in each of those countries.

Dr. Fox has authored other books on religious discrimination, including, The Correlates of Religion and State (Routledge, 2019) and The Unfree Exercise of Religion: A World Survey of Religious Discrimination against Religious Minorities (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His new book adds to this broader body of work.

A video of Dr. Fox’s engaging presentation and the ensuing discussion will soon be available on the event page and RFI’s YouTube Channel.