Nearly half (47%) of the countries and territories in the world have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation.

Of 198 countries studied by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, 104 have no such laws while 94 have at least some of them. Anti-blasphemy laws exist in 32 countries (16% of those studied), laws penalizing apostasy are found in 20 (10%), and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

Laws against defamation of religion were far more common worldwide than laws against blasphemy and apostasy. They were most prevalent in Europe, where 36 of the region’s 45 countries (80%) had such laws or policies in 2011. In most of these countries, these laws tended to penalize religious hate speech rather than defamation of religion.

Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in the Middle East and North Africa; 13 of the 20 countries in that region (65%) make blasphemy a crime. In the Asia-Pacific region, nine of the 50 countries (18%) had anti-blasphemy laws in 2011, while in Europe such laws were found in eight out of 45 countries (18%).

Measures against apostasy were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region (11 of 20, or 55%) as well as in five of the 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (10%) and four of the 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa (8%). Read More

Michael Piccorossi  is director of digital strategy at Pew Research Center.