Freedom to worship freely is something Americans take for granted. But scores of nations persecute religious minorities. Some penalize most
every faith, while others promote the dominant or establishment religions. A few aid favored groups while leaving people largely free to
practice their own.
In its latest annual report on religious liberty, the State Department highlights 30 nations as particularly egregious offenders. There are a
number of reasons countries persecute. But most nations fall into two categories.
The first are Muslim nations that seek to reinforce the Muslim faith -- often the particular branch, Shia or Sunni, that controls the state.
The second are authoritarian states that either are still communist or have only recently escaped communism. Their authoritarian impulses
typically cover civil and political liberties as well as religious freedom.
Then there are the handful of miscellaneous others. Just five of the 30 fall outside the two main categories. But they remain important
nonetheless, including the world's second most populous nation as well as a couple of the most repressive states.
Burma. The brutal military junta ruling this nation is one of the leading contenders for "worst regime on earth." The United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom notes that the regime "has one of the world's worst human rights records." In general, the
generals do not interfere with religious worship per se, but they do promote Theravada Buddhism, making adherence a prerequisite for serious
Moreover, the junta's fear of opposition leads to harsh restrictions on most people of faith. USCIRF notes that "In the past year, religious
freedom conditions deteriorated, particularly following the violent suppression of peacefully demonstrating Buddhist monks in September