Violence motivated by religious intolerance continued to be reported in many countries in Europe and North America in 2007 and 2008. Members of religious minorities throughout the region were subjected to numerous physical assaults causing serious injury or death. Adherents of religions deemed by governments to be nontraditional in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Evangelical Protestants, minority Orthodox Christians, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were among those targeted for violence, sometimes in the context of government restrictions on religious activities and official rhetoric that vilifies such groups. In the United States, violent attacks on religious institutions sometimes combined antipathy toward particular confessions with hatred motivated by the racial makeup of their congregations.
High levels of violent attacks against Jews synagogues, and other Jewish sites continue across Europe and North America, combining both religious intolerance and racism. Antisemitic hate crimes are addressed in a separate section of the 2008 Hate Crime Survey: Antisemitic Violence.
Anti-Muslim violence, which includes violence motivated by religious intolerance as well as racist and anti-immigrant bias, was also present in many of the countries covered in this report. These and other patterns of violence towards Muslims are discussed in another section: Violence Against Muslims.
This section addresses violence against adherents and property of other vulnerable religious minorities. In some countries, members of minority religions are subject to violent attacks, reflecting longstanding tensions between minority religious groups and the majority religious community. In other cases, adherents of religions that are new or are perceived to be new in a particular area are the targets of violence.
Government officials are not always neutral with regard to such tensions and disputes, and may exacerbate them or create the atmosphere in which violent acts take place, as well as influencing the way such violent acts are addressed by the authorities. In several countries discussed here, governments have enforced restrictions on religious activity, specifically targeting minority religious groups and beliefs. In extreme cases, religious activities that are not approved by the authorities are criminalized, while official approval of religious activities by some groups is arbitrarily withheld. Government security forces and law enforcement officials have harassed or committed other abuses against persons engaged in religious activities, forcefully breaking up religious services, confiscating property, and fining or detaining religious leaders and other participants.
With or without such government action, officials at times condone or fail to refute vilification against some religious minority groups in the state or private media. In particularly egregious cases, law enforcement officials participate in attacks or fail to intervene and provide protection to members of religious minorities.