'The past 12 months have been violent ones where religion is concerned.'
With that sobering introduction, A.D. magazine -- the joint publication of the United Church of Christ and the United Presbyterian Church in the USA -- presents its second survey on the state of religious freedom around the world.
The survey, admittedly imperfect, attempts to apply a number of questions to the way religion is treated in and by governments, beginning with the question of whether believers are free to meet for worship.
It also checks whether religious groups can hold title to property, must register with the state, are able to publish books or newspapers, operate schools and whether leaders may freely travel.
It found 1981 to be a bloody year for religious freedom, noting the killing and jailing of Iran's Bahai community, Syria's killing of 400 members of a fundamentlaist Muslim sect, beating and torturing of Christian lay people in Czechoslovakia.
'And in Guatemala, El Salvador and Lesotho, all bounds of decency have been breached in governmental dealings with religious persons who, for working with the poor in their exercise of their faith, have earned the displeasure of the regimes,' the magazine said.
It said that almost all states allow people to pray.
'It is when believers go beyond prayer and seek to live out the tenets of their faith in society that things go awry,' the survey said.
And it said 'the worst excesses' in religious repression 'seem reserved for schismatics in religion rather than for people of an entirely different faith.'
The survey listed 13 nations in its 'most repressive' list, beginning with Albania and followed by North Korea, Guatemala, El Salvador, Iran, Ethiopia, Soviet Union, China, Czechoslovakia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, South Korea and Turkey.
Two nations on last year's list of 'most repressive' did not make this year's list -- Afghanistan and South Africa. Afghanistan was dropped because the editors did not know whether the religious leadership, under the yoke of the Soviet Union, was continuing its repression of those who seek to change faiths. South Africa was dropped 'only because, in 1981, more blood flowed elsewhere.'
This year's list of the 'most free' is the same as last year's with the Scandanavian nation's collectively listed first, followed by Switzerland, the United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland), France and the Benelux nations, West Germany, the United States and Canada, Japan, Austria and Italy.
But this year the magazine created a new list -- a 'caution list' of nation's to be watched and where the possibility of believers' rights being eroded.
That list includes Honduras, Brazil, Poland, Colombia, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Perus and the United States.
The United States is cited for its 'tendency to over legislate on cults, family planning and financial accountability of religious bodies.'
Poland makes the list because of the delicate situation the church there faces under martial law while Honduras, Brazil, Peru and Colombia are included because of rising tension between governments and clergy.
As for Egypt, the magazine expresses the fear the government 'may go too far in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Copts,' while A.D. notes that in Yugoslavia, Croation Catholic clergy are being arrested along with some members of the Muslim minority.