10 Countries with the Least Religious Freedom (2023)

The United States’ International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the office of the Secretary of State to compile a list each year of countries that have “engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” according to the State Department’s January 4, 2018 press release. In 2017, “Countries of Concern” were Burma — odd, since Burma doesn’t exist any more, having been renamed “Myanmar” — China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

While the list is always interesting, one wonders if the U.S. itself is in danger of earning itself a place on it. In spite of the fact that the U.S. Constitution contains no references to God, and explicitly states in its First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and increasing number of conservative political figures are pushing a narrative that the U.S. was founded on Christian values. Worse, they, and even conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, are going so far as to assert that others’ rights to their own beliefs infringes on Christians’ “religious freedom.” It’s loopy, circular logic that must have founding father Thomas Jefferson — the man who wrote that there must be “a wall of separation between church and state” — spinning in his grave.

That aside aside, here’s why the Countries of Concern were called out by the State Department.



While Myanmar’s been on the list since 1999, when it was still Burma, the brutality of the conflict between the government’s forces and the country’s minority Rohingya Muslims captured the world’s attention in 2017. The group has been denied citizenship since 1982. After the Rohingya attacked police offices and an army base in August 2017, the government’s brutal response was to burn parts of Rakhine State — where 1.1 million Rohingya live — to the ground. The bloody conflict has resulted in some 70,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh for refuge, and about 23,000 people in Myanmar internally displaced. To many, it appears that the Myanmar government is actively involved in a horrific ethnic cleansing operation against the Rohingya.



China allows “normal religious activities,” but does not actually specify what “normal” means. The government officially recognizes the Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant belief systems, but there are widespread report of attacks on other sects, most infamously the non-violent Falun Gong and the Uighur Muslims. According to the State Department’s 2016 report, there have been claims the government “physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups.” Among the unregistered entities are Christian churches, with stories of a disappeared Catholic priest and a pastor and his wife being buried alive. China’s takeover of Tibet, and removal of unfriendly Buddhists there, is also an issue of religious persecution, regardless of its underlying motivation.


One of the sources of information for the State Department’s list is the report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which sums up the situation in Eritrea like so:

The Eritrean government continues to repress religious freedom for unregistered — and in some cases registered — religious communities. Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations include torture or other ill treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups. The situation is particularly grave for unregistered Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.



The USCIRF report accuses Iran of a systemic campaign against religious freedom via harassment, arrests, and imprisonment for Baha’is, Christian converts, Sunni Muslims, and even dissenting Shi’a Muslims in the Shi’a nation. While governmental anti-semitic proclamations have become less prominent in recent years, since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 the number of people incarcerated for their religious beliefs has dramatically risen.

North Korea

While it’s difficult to know exactly what goes on in the closed-off “hermit kingdom,” according to the USCIRF, in North Korea, “Freedom of religion or belief does not exist and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed.” Citizens are expected to worship the state, and in particular, leader Kim Jong-un. Persecution of believers in any religious faith is the overt policy of the government, though there are refugee accounts of perhaps 1.2% to 5.1% of North Koreans secretly practicing religion there anyway.


Sudan operates under a strict interpretation of Shari’ah law, enforcing hudood penalties on both Muslims and non-Muslims. The USCIRF says the country opposes the establishment of any Christian communities, and that it has been arresting Christian leaders.

Saudi Arabia


The Saudi government promotes a particular view of Sunni Islam. As far as other Muslim sects go, the country has cut back the power of its Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice due to its Vision 2030 campaign to modernize the country, and is claiming to step up its efforts at combating internal violent extremism. Meanwhile, the Saudis prohibit outright the practice of any non-Muslim religion in their country.


The USCIRF says “Tajikistan suppresses religious activity independent of state control, particularly of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and imprisons individuals on unfounded criminal allegations due to their Muslim identity.” There have been reports of “police raids, surveillance, and forced closures” against both registered and non-registered religious organizations. All religious activity in the country is under the strict control of the government’s Committee on Religious Affairs.


Turkmenistan also tightly controls religion within its borders, requiring religious groups register and meet what the USCIRF calls “intrusive” standards. And registration is no guarantee against arrest or harassment, however — Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims being frequent targets — and there are reports of torture against those jailed for private religious practice.

10 Countries with the Least Religious Freedom (1)

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The USCIRF says that in 2016, there were 13,500 religious and political prisoners in Uzbekistan. The country enforces adherence to a particular interpretation of Islam. In addition, “Members of Protestant denominations were subjected to frequent harassment through raids on private homes, seizures of religious literature, and the levying of fines,” says the USCIRF. Kazakhs and Russians have been arrested entering the country with religious materials, out of stated suspicions of terrorist intent.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 refers to freedom of religious beliefs as a “universal right”, stating:

The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States. Many of our Nation’s founders fled religious persecution abroad, cherishing in their hearts and minds the ideal of religious freedom. They established in law, as a fundamental right and as a pillar of our Nation, the right to freedom of religion. From its birth to this day, the United States has prized this legacy of religious freedom and honored this heritage by standing for religious freedom and offering refuge to those suffering religious persecution.

The act’s purpose is to express U.S. foreign policy, and also — chillingly — “to authorize United States actions in response to violations of religious freedom in foreign countries.” Fortunately, it’s not an authorization we’ve readily employed, and one can hope we never do, with the protection of “religious freedom” in question these days even within our own borders.


Which countries have the least religious freedom? ›

Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have significant restrictions against the practice of religion in general, and other countries like China discourage it on a wide basis. Several countries in Asia establish a state religion, with Islam (usually Sunni Islam) being the most common, followed by Buddhism.

What are the least religious states in the country? ›

Amongst the least religious states include Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Alaska – all ranking in the top ten for being the least religious places in America.

Which colonies had the least religious freedom? ›

The Puritans and Pilgrims arrived in New England in the early 1600s after suffering religious persecution in England. However, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony didn't tolerate any opposing religious views. Catholics, Quakers and other non-Puritans were banned from the colony.

Which countries are the most non religious? ›

Relative to its own populations, Zuckerman ranks the top 5 countries with the highest possible ranges of agnostics and atheists: Sweden (46-85%), Vietnam (81%), Denmark (43-80%), Norway (31-72%), and Japan (64-65%).

Does Japan have religious freedom? ›

Legal Framework. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and requires the state to refrain from religious education or any other religious activity. It prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.

What countries don't believe in God? ›

Relative to its own populations, Zuckerman ranks the top five countries with the highest possible ranges of atheists and agnostics: Sweden (46-85%), Vietnam (81%), Denmark (43-80%), Norway (31-72%), and Japan (64-65%).

What is the least religious country in Europe? ›

The countries where the most people reported no religious belief were France (40%), Czech Republic (37%), Sweden (34%), Netherlands (30%), Estonia (29%), Germany (27%), Belgium (27%) and Slovenia (26%). The most religious societies are those in Romania with 1% non-believers and Malta with 2% non-believers.

Is China an atheist country? ›

The People's Republic of China is officially an atheist state, but the government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism are recognised separately), and Islam.

How many countries do not allow religious freedom? ›

41 countries ban religion-related groups; Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'is among the most commonly targeted. Government restrictions on religion take many forms around the world.

How much of us is not religious? ›

The percentage of Americans without religious affiliation, often labeled as "Nones", is around 20-29% – with people who identify as "nothing in particular" accounting for the growing majority of this demographic, and both atheists and agnostics accounting for the relatively unchanged minority of this demographic.

Is the US the most religious country? ›

According to the World Values Survey in 2017, the United States is more secular than the median country; they ranked the United States the 32nd least religious country in the world. A large variety of faiths have historically flourished within the country.

Which colony was least tolerant of other religions? ›

The much-ballyhooed arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600s was indeed a response to persecution that these religious dissenters had experienced in England. But the Puritan fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not countenance tolerance of opposing religious views.

Which of the 13 colonies had religious freedom? ›

Pennsylvania and New York were two other colonies known for their establishment of religious freedom. Quaker leader William Penn founded Pennsylvania 5 in 1681, and seeking to grow the colony, made it a bastion of religious freedom.

What countries have religious freedom? ›

  • Netherlands. #1 in Religious freedom. #12 in Best Countries Overall. ...
  • Canada. #2 in Religious freedom. ...
  • United Kingdom. #3 in Religious freedom. ...
  • Australia. #4 in Religious freedom. ...
  • Norway. #5 in Religious freedom. ...
  • Sweden. #6 in Religious freedom. ...
  • Denmark. #7 in Religious freedom. ...
  • United States. #8 in Religious freedom.

Which is the only atheist country in the world? ›

Religious beliefs were completely banned in the constitution of the People's Republic of Albania in 1976, nine years after Hoxha's speech.

Is North Korea an atheist? ›

There are no known official statistics of religions in North Korea. Officially, North Korea is an atheist state, although its constitution guarantees free exercise of religion, provided that religious practice does not introduce foreign forces, harm the state, or harm the existing social order.

Is Canada a religious country? ›

Religion in Canada encompasses a wide range of groups and beliefs. Christianity is the largest religion in Canada, with Catholicism being its largest denomination. Christians, representing 53.3% of the population in 2021, are followed by people having no religion at 34.6% of the total population.

Does China have freedom of religion? ›

The constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.” The government recognizes five ...

Is Christianity allowed in Japan? ›

By the the end of the 19th Century, Japan decided to open its borders again. In 1858, the fumie practice was abolished in Nagasaki. In 1873, Japan's long ban on Christianity was finally lifted - more than two centuries after it was first put in place.

Is there freedom of religion in England? ›

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act gives effect to the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 9 - the right to freedom of religion and belief is one of the rights protected by the Human Rights Act.

What religion does not have a God? ›

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Which country has in God we trust? ›

Since 1956 “In God We Trust” has been the official motto of the United States. Its use on U.S. currency dates to the Civil War.

What country has the most believers in God? ›

Top ten by numbers (2010)
1United States246,790,000
6 more rows

Is USA a secular country? ›

The United States is also credited with being the first explicitly secular nation, not only in the West but in the entire world. In the United States, the Establishment Clause in the first amendment is the basis for many cases involving the sponsorship of religion in the public sphere.

What percentage of China is atheist? ›

But then there is China, which at 14 percent has the lowest percentage affirming the need for belief in God of any country surveyed—even lower than in the secular democracies of Western Europe.

Is Christianity declining in the world? ›

While Christianity is currently the predominant religion in Latin America, Europe, Canada and the United States, the religion is declining in many of these areas, including Western Europe, North America, and Oceania.

Can you own a Bible in China? ›

China for years has allowed sales of the Bible through official channels only. Currently, among China's major religions, which include Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and folk beliefs, Christianity is the only one whose major holy text cannot be sold through normal commercial channels.

Who is a famous atheist? ›

Philosopher Daniel Dennett is referred to as one of the "Four Horsemen of New Atheism," along with Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.

Is Christianity allowed in China? ›

The Chinese government is wary of religion for several reasons. China is officially an atheist state and Communist Party members are banned from believing in or practicing any faith; there is concern that religion can function as an alternative to Communism and thus undermine loyalty to the government.

What are the worst countries for religious violence? ›

The 2018 World Watch List has the following countries as its top ten: North Korea, and Eritrea, whose Christian and Muslim religions are controlled by the state, and Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, India and Iran, which are all predominantly non-Christian.

Does North Korea have freedom of religion? ›

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief, with the stipulation that “religion must not be used as a pretext for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.” In July, the UN Secretary-General reported to the UN General Assembly that there was a “growing body of information ...

What countries ban Jehovah's Witnesses? ›

Jehovah's Witness members have been imprisoned in many countries for their refusal of conscription or compulsory military service. Their religious activities are banned or restricted in some countries, including Singapore, China, Vietnam, Russia and many Muslim-majority countries.

Which religion is declining the fastest? ›

Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching.

Where is Christianity growing the fastest? ›

Christianity has been estimated to be growing rapidly in South America, Africa, and Asia. In Africa, for instance, in 1900, there were only 8.7 million adherents of Christianity; now there are 390 million, and it is expected that by 2025 there will be 600 million Christians in Africa.

What religion is the fastest growing? ›

According to various scholars and sources Pentecostalism – a Protestant Christian movement – is the fastest growing religion in the world. This growth is primarily due to religious conversion. According to Pulitzer Center 35,000 people become Pentecostal or "Born again" every day.

Which religion is richest in USA? ›

Religion is a socio-cultural system that often involves belief in supernatural forces and may intend to provide a moral system or a meaning of life. Jews typically rank as the highest income groups in the United States, with Hindus and Episcopalians behind them.

Which religion is powerful in the world? ›

Of the world's major religions, Christianity is the largest, with more than two billion followers. Christianity is based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and is approximately 2,000 years old.

Who is the biggest religious in the world? ›

Adherents in 2020
Christianity2.382 billion31.11%
Islam1.907 billion24.9%
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist1.193 billion15.58%
Hinduism1.161 billion15.16%
18 more rows

Which colony had no official religion? ›

Banished from Massachusetts in 1635, Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, the first colony with no established church and the first society in America to grant liberty of conscience to everyone.”

Which of the 13 colonies were Catholic? ›

Although French Catholics participated in the exploration and colonization of the Mississippi valley, among the 13 colonies of the emerging United States only Maryland, which had been settled in 1634 and established in 1649, included an appreciable number of Catholics before American independence.

Which colony had separation of religion? ›

In 1636, he purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and founded the colony of Rhode Island. This colony was the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion were separated.

What was the first religion in the US? ›

Religion in the United States began with the religions and spiritual practices of Native Americans. Later, religion also played a role in the founding of some colonies, as many colonists, such as the Puritans, came to escape religious persecution.

Did the Middle Colonies allow religious freedom? ›

The Middle Colonies were generally run by Royal or Proprietary Governors and elected Colonial Assemblies. Many Middle Colony constitutions guaranteed freedom of religion and forbade taxation without representation.

Which colonies were religiously intolerant? ›

Massachusetts Bay Colony did not tolerate differences of opinion in religious matters and banished those who seriously questioned and threatened the church's authority.

Which country has the least religious freedom? ›

Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan have significant restrictions against the practice of religion in general, and other countries like China discourage it on a wide basis.

What is the least religious country? ›

RankCountry/districtNo, unimportant
108 more rows

Does Iran have religious freedom? ›

The law prohibits Muslim citizens from changing or renouncing their religious beliefs. The constitution also stipulates that five non-Ja'afari Islamic schools shall be “accorded full respect” and official status in matters of religious education and certain personal affairs.

Which country has the most religious intolerance? ›

The countries receiving a score of 7, indicating those where religious freedom was least respected, were Turkmenistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea. China was given a score of 6 overall, however Tibet was listed separately in the 7 category.

Does China have religious freedom? ›

The constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC), which cites the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits protections for religious practice to “normal religious activities,” without defining “normal.” The government recognizes five ...

Does North Korea have religious freedom? ›

The constitution provides for freedom of religious belief, with the stipulation that “religion must not be used as a pretext for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.” In July, the UN Secretary-General reported to the UN General Assembly that there was a “growing body of information ...

What are the top 10 countries with religious violence? ›

The 2018 World Watch List has the following countries as its top ten: North Korea, and Eritrea, whose Christian and Muslim religions are controlled by the state, and Afghanistan, Myanmar, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, India and Iran, which are all predominantly non-Christian.

Which religion is peaceful? ›

Buddhism is a religion of peace.

Does Russia have freedom of religion? ›

Executive Summary. The constitution declares the state is secular and guarantees freedom of religion, equal rights irrespective of religious belief, and the right to worship and profess one's religion.

Is the Bible allowed in North Korea? ›

Persecution in North Korea

Christians in North Korea must practice their faith in secret. They can't meet together to worship or tell others about Jesus. If they are caught with a Bible, singing a hymn, or praying, they can face up to 15 years in a labor camp.

What religion is allowed in China? ›

The state recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. The practice of any other faith is formally prohibited, although often tolerated, especially in the case of traditional Chinese beliefs.

How religious is Thailand? ›

NGOs, academics, and religious groups state that 85 to 95 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist and 5 to 10 percent Muslim. Other groups, including animists, Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and Taoists, constitute the remainder of the population.


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