Virginia's Regent University Associate Professor Dan Koev presented a new study that claims a diminishing member count among government-backed faith groups around the world from 1990 to 2010.
The recent study, entitled "The Influence of State Favoritism on Established Religions and their Competitors," which was published by Cambridge University Press, highlighted that the state's engagement in the operations of a preferred religion risks depriving that institution of its theological identity and spiritual vigor by effectively turning it into a government body.
Dominant Faith Group Lost Devotees
Koev's research covered 34 countries that legally recognized a single faith or religious institution and had preferential access to government resources. He included in his study predominantly Christian countries like the United Kingdom, Argentina, Denmark, and Greece; and Muslim nations like Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan.
According to Koev, 70.6% of "favored religions" lost significant devotees during the 1990-2010 period. The study showed a minimal 29.4% favorable result among state-backed faith groups than other religions in the state. Nations that have declined in members' affiliation include Lutheran Iceland at 11.58%, Muslim Bahrain at 14.47%, Buddhist Bhutan at 10.53%, and Catholic Argentina at 6.21%.
The findings showed significant disparities between states with and without laws favoring one religion. The dominant religion of the state fell to 3.4% of its population, giving fared results to religions that are not government-funded. According to the study, non-dominant faiths rose by approximately 27% on average in those countries, compared to only 12% in countries without a state-supported denomination or faith.
Other Faith Groups Gain Opportunity
Some of these countries that have significant gains occurred in Iceland (94.62%), Lutheran Denmark (66.84%), and Catholic Malta (27.98%). Non-dominant groups also grew in Buddhist Cambodia (22.81%) and in Muslim Maldives (49.29%). Koev said unless there would no government suppression among the minorities, the possibility for them to increase in number is high. He concluded that preferential treatment among dominant faith groups will cause harm rather than support, allowing other groups to take their place.
In a statement, the Baptist Joint Committee (BJC) for Religious Liberty said it was relevant, especially since there were Christian Nationalists who seek to be recognized as exclusively legalized in the United States.
They wrote, "The results of this study confirm what many proponents of religious liberty have long held: that religious favoritism by the state does religion no favors."
The BJC reiterated that faith groups don't need indirect financing, government approval requirements, or the explicit formation of a state religion if the church's purpose was to strengthen their congregant's faith. They agreed with Koev's research that state support would not make the faith outstanding but the other way around. The group stressed that "religion must be voluntary to have vitality." However, the evidence appeared that state-preferred faith loses its vitality.