Countries can regulate both the majority religion and minority religions. Although most countries do both, the motivations and dynamics of these two types of regulation are distinct. The regulation, restriction, or control by a government of all religion in a country, including the majority religion, can take multiple forms. These include regulating (1) religion’s role in politics, (2) religious institutions and clergy, (3) religious practices, and (4) other aspects of religion. At least one form of religious regulation is engaged in by 95.5% of governments, and religious regulation is becoming more common over time. Regulating, restricting, and controlling religion is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion. Multiple motivations exist for regulating, restricting, and controlling majority religions. (1) Some countries have secular or anti-religious national ideologies. (2) Some countries support religion, but countries that support a religion often also want to influence and control that religion. In fact, control is a nearly inevitable consequence of support. (3) Politicians often fear religion’s potential political power and seek to keep it in check. (4) Autocratic governments often seek to restrict any aspect of civil culture they cannot control, and this includes religion. On the other hand, regulation is costly. It requires resources that can be used elsewhere, so regulating religion represents a decision to use resources despite these costs.
The definition of the term “religious discrimination” is contested, but for the purposes of this discussion religious discrimination is defined as restrictions on the religious practices or institutions of minority religions that are not placed on the majority religion. Religious discrimination can include restrictions on (a) religious practices, (b) religious institutions and clergy, (c) conversion and proselytizing, and (d) other types of discrimination. Globally, 88.5% of countries discriminate against at least one religious minority, and religious discrimination is becoming more common over time. Religious discrimination is the norm worldwide regardless of world region, government type, and majority religion. Motivations to discriminate are multiple and complex. They include (a) differences in religious ideologies and beliefs—many religions are ideologically intolerant of other religions; (b) religious organizations seeking an institutional monopoly in a country; (c) religious beliefs and practices running counter to liberal and secular values, including human rights; (d) countries seeking to protect their national culture from outside influences, including nonindigenous religions; (e) countries having anti-cult policies; (f) countries restricting minority religious practices that are considered objectionable to the national ideology or culture; (g) a historical conflict between minority groups and the majority; (h) the perception of minorities as a security threat; (i) the perception of minorities as a political threat ; (j) long-lasting historical tensions between the majority and minority; (k) national politicians mobilizing supporters along religious lines; (l) societal prejudices against minorities leading to government-based discrimination; (m) religious identity; (n) general discrimination that is also applicable to religious minorities. Although these are among the most common motivations for discrimination, in many cases the motivations are unique to the specific situation.