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Global Majority Supports Freedom of Expression with Certain Qualifications

A global majority supports wide-ranging freedoms of expression, including religious liberty, according to a Pew Research Center report.

Among the 38 nations surveyed, a median of 56 percent of survey participants affirm personal freedom of speech without government censorship.

The median is the middle value in a set of data.

When asked about news media reporting apart from government restriction, a median of 55 percent affirmed this right, while 50 percent approved the uncensored use of the Internet.

Support for press freedom declined significantly with regard to publishing content related to national security or information that might destabilize the economy.

The global median supporting the free exercise of religion was much higher, with the report calling it “an especially significant principle.”

A median of 74 percent of respondents affirmed it as very important to them and 20 percent said it is somewhat important.

“The right to worship freely is particularly significant in sub-Saharan Africa,” the report noted, “across the eight nations polled in the region, a median of 87 percent say this is very important, including 90 percent in Nigeria and Senegal.”

The U.S. ranked second with 84 percent responding that it is very important for people to practice their religion freely, followed by the Asia/Pacific region (74 percent), the Middle East (73 percent), Latin America (72 percent), Europe (63 percent) and Canada (62 percent).

The leading nations affirming religious freedom in each region are: Africa (Nigeria and Senegal – 90 percent), Latin America (Brazil – 86 percent), Middle East (Lebanon – 86 percent), Asia/Pacific (Pakistan – 84 percent) and Europe (Italy – 75 percent).

“Freedom of religion is widely embraced around the world, but it is particularly significant to people who place high importance on religion in their lives,” Pew explained. “In 34 nations, those who say religion is very important in their own lives are more likely to believe it is very important to live in a country where people can practice their religion freely.”

Despite a broad affirmation of free expression, the survey revealed limited global support for protecting speech offensive to religious and minority groups.

Only a 35 percent global median agreed that speech either offensive to religious beliefs or to minority groups should be protected.

The complete report is available here.