This week, the Prince of Wales spoke of his concerns regarding the rise of religious persecution around the world.
He's right to be concerned; our TV screens and social media streams bear witness to the growth of religious oppression in the Middle East, Africa and on the sub-continent. However, some reputable studies suggest that it may also be an emerging challenge closer to home.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights upholds the freedom of religion, yet Prince Charles noted that 'an absence of freedom to determine one's own religion is woven into the laws and customs' of more than a few nations.
He pointed out that whilst stories emerging from Iraq and Syria pushed the issue of persecution into the news, the problem extends much farther afield.
A new report from the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need says that in 41% of the 196 countries studied, religious freedom is impaired or in decline. It also reveals that a further 18 percent of nations are 'of concern', suggesting that they too feature a general trend toward the persecution of religious minorities.
A number of charities are working to provide shelter and food for the more than 120,000 Christians who have been displaced by fighting in Iraq. A friend of mine is currently working on a project to build a coalition of Christians in business and church leadership to provide thousands of tents for displaced families.
Prince Charles is one of a number of public figures in the UK and Europe to publicly address a rise in religious intolerance, particularly as it applies to Christians and Jews.
Today the British Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has suggested that some Jewish families are concerned for the future of their children in the UK. He has spoken out, he says, in response to a recent rise in 'violent assaults, the desecration and damage of Jewish property, anti-Semitic graffiti, hate-mail and online abuse.'
In July, the Jewish Community Security Trust recorded more than 300 anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, up 400 percent on July last year.
As with any red-button issue, there is always the danger of hyping the situation and rushing to suggest a global crisis. In the study cited above, 41 percent of the countries reviewed showed little or no significant signs of growing intolerance. Yet if you consider populations rather than states, the situation does appear to be more worrying.
A 2006 to 2009 study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that only one percent of the globe's population lived in areas in which there was a decline in government restrictions on religion or social hostility toward religion.
The study, conducted in 198 countries, found that 2.2 billion people, roughly one third of the world's total population, live in countries where one or the other of these factors grew substantially between 2006 and 2009.
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