Illegal Religion

Religion is one of the chiefest aspects of a culture, one that is quite deeply-rooted among many. To take away that religion is viewed by many as destructive of the culture in general, and probably the biggest way that people try to do this is to outlaw the religion, banning the worship of the religion's deity or deities and the practices of the religion in general.

The reasons for doing this vary:
  • One culture has taken over another, and in order to facilitate assimilation into the prevailing culture and stamp out rebellion, religion is among the many cultural aspects the other culture may outlaw, usually to force the populace into following the other culture's religion. Sometimes this works in reverse, with the ban on religion being a way to try to halt the encroachment of another culture on the other's way of life.
  • Another religion has taken hold in the land and sees the other religion as competition, often leading to the other religion being declared evil and to be wiped out.
  • The government or ruler doing the banning has a serious hatred for the religion in question and/or sees the religion as a threat to their power. Usually said government wants the religion gone in favor of its state religion, or in more modern times, complete devotion to the state.
  • Sometimes, in fantasy settings where Gods Need Prayer Badly, this may be an attempt to weaken or outright kill a god by denying him or her the worship he or she needs.
  • The religion requires or encourages behavior that is unacceptable to the ruling culture. In this case, the rulers may tolerate abstract belief in the religion as long as the objectionable elements are not practiced.

This usually results in the banned religion being driven underground, as people are naturally resistant to attempts to stop them from practicing their own religion and believing in or worshipping their own gods. As a result, this may be a source of tension between the people and the powers that be that if left unchecked (or aggravated by other factors) may very well lead to rebellion.

In cases involving a genuine, overt Religion of Evil, as opposed to a faith that is merely painted as such by their opposition, this trope is usually not portrayed in the same negative light as banning a faith for other reasons. In such cases, the faith's priesthood will be given ample Kick the Dog moments, usually involving Human Sacrifice, to make it abundantly clear it really is deserving of prohibition.

Compare Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions. Also compare Ban on Magic. Not to be confused with Ban on Politics, which is a formal rule against discussion of sensitive topics such as politics and religion on internet forums and polite conversation due to the tendencies of such discussion to lead to fights.

When adding Real Life examples, please list historical examples only, and keep in mind the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement due to the very sensitive nature of religion.


Comic Books
  • In V for Vendetta, England has transformed into a fascist dictatorship. Among the many things the government has made illegal, even possessing a Qur'an, let alone following the Islamic faith, is punishable by death.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: The Decepticons renounced Primus, the Primes and the Matrix at the beginning of the war. Several million years later the Decepticon Justice Division hunt down and violently kill anyone still practicing any religion whatsoever, since Megatron proclaimed it a form of control. As opposed to violently killing people to make them all stay in line, which is just the normal workings of an empire, naturally. Adding to the hypocrisy, the D.J.D. religiously worship Megatron (or did at any rate, and one of them murmurs prayers when nearing death.

  • During the reign of the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars universe, the Jedi were hunted down and driven to near-extinction by Imperial forces, their religion dwindling from universally recognized to often ridiculed as old superstition. Emperor Palpatine and his right hand Darth Vader were members of the evil Sith order, the ancient enemies of the Jedi.
  • In the Apocalypse film series, Christianity is considered illegal to practice, as One Nation Earth actively hunts down all who do.
  • In Escape from L.A., the new extreme right wing President who takes over the United States outlaws all religions other than Christianity as well as atheism. It is punishable by death through deportation to the hellish, crime-ridden Los Angeles Penitentiary Island. Taslima, one of the inhabitants, tells Snake that she was an American Muslim before she was shipped off to L.A.

  • Averted in Joust. The Tians allow Altans in captured territory to continue to worship their own deities, to avoid the problems that would result from underground worship. (The fact that the Tian and Altan pantheons are almost identical doesn't hurt, either.)
  • In David Eddings's Belgariad and Malloreon series, the Bear Cult, based on a misguided worship of the Alorn's god Belar, has to be periodically suppressed for its fanaticism.
  • In The Witcher universe, Coram Agh Tera, the Cult of the Lionhead Spider, is a forbidden religion in many of the civilized nations due to its practice of Human Sacrifice, and while the persecution is not as intense as it has been in the past, very few places will allow Coram Agh Tera cultists to preach openly. The government of Temeria is particularly keen to suppress the cult within their borders, and membership of the Lionhead Spider cult is a crime akin to murder.
  • In Discworld, both Omnia in Small Gods and Borogravia in Monstrous Regiment banned any religion other than the state one (Omnianism and Nugganism, respectively).
  • Downplayed in the Star Carrier series, where the Terran Confederation's "White Covenant" law means that, while religion isn't banned outright, many of its common practices are. In particular proselytizing, many missionary activities, and conversion by threat or force are considered violations of basic human rights. This came about after Islamic terrorists nuked several major cities and set off World War III, and understandably doesn't sit well with a lot of religious groups (the Muslims especially, since it bans a core tenet of the faith, to bring the word of Allah to the infidel).
  • In The Immortals Emperor Ozorne of Carthak restricted or discouraged traditional religious practices and tried to set himself up as an object of worship, but he stopped short of actually banning religion for fear the gods would take umbrage and depose him. He ended up pushing them far enough to put Daine in place to demolish his regime (and several palaces) with an army of animate dinosaur skeletons.
  • In The Stars My Destination religion has been outlawed and pictures of people practising it in secret are treated as something akin to pornography.
  • In 2230 in the novel Valhalla, all religion is banned without exception. The villains of the novel are colonialist missionaries.
  • In the Left Behind series, Christianity as well as all other religions except for Carpathianism become illegal to practice during the latter half of the Tribulation when Nicolae Carpathia is "resurrected" and proclaims himself to be God. Surprisingly averted by God and Jesus Christ in the Millennial Kingdom, since they allow The Other Light members to practice their religion within certain limits.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Colonization trilogy, the Race does not exactly outlaw human "superstitions" in their territories, but they do want to encourage conversion to their own reverence of the Spirits of Emperor's Past. To accomplish this they impose certain restrictions, such as charging people a fee to enter temples and forcing students in their medical school to pay respects to the shrine of the Spirits of Emperors Past. They have better success in China, where they managed to frame the practice in ways already similar to traditional Chinese ancestor reverence, and worse luck in the Middle East, where poor words from the Race ground troops make it a direct challenge to Islam.
  • in Cat's Cradle, every successive ruler of San Lorenzo outlaws Bokononism (and is an ardent Bokononist). It's actually an important part of the religion: since the poverty and relatively abysmal living conditions of the tiny nation and its populace really are pretty hopeless, the founder(s) of Bokononism decided that the religion should at least provide an interesting and entertaining drama to give the people something else to focus on. So, they took on the dual roles of the Holy Prophet in the jungle and the Evil Dictator in the city, eventually both succumbing to Becoming the Mask to one degree or another.
  • In the United States of Christian Nation, all religions except for Christianity are banned.
  • Annals of the Western Shore: In Voices, the Alds have outlawed worship of Ansul's Fantasy Pantheon. While they don't make any effort to evangelize their religion, they come down brutally on anyone they catch saluting one of Ansul's many religious statues or shrines.
  • Christianity is, of course, an Illegal Religion in Search The Seven Hills. The Praetorian Arrius explains why; "They could sacrifice their babies in the forum if only they'd give a slice of the meat to the Genius of the Emperor. But they won't."
  • The Baroque Cycle: Depending on where you are in Europe either Catholicism, or some—or all—forms of Protestantism may be illegal. Some places switch back and forth multiple times over the course of the story.
  • In the Final Empire of Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, all religions except for the Steel Ministry are illegal, as an extension of the fact that it's illegal to regard anyone but the Lord Ruler as a god. Even then, only the Obligators (the Ministry's priests and bureaucrats) are permitted to engage much in the ritual and spiritual side of the faith - the Lord Ruler prefers his followers to show more material forms of devotion.

Mythology and Folklore
  • Defied by Dionysus in Greek mythology, who was known for killing rulers who made worship of him illegal.
  • In the Book of Exodus, the commandment to worship only the Abrahamic God made any other types of religion illegal. Not only did this include not practicing the various pagan faiths found in the area, it also included an expectation to destroy peoples who did, and served as a way of making them seem like Asshole Victims by painting them as "godless heathens." (This didn't always happen in practice, but it was expected.)

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Greyhawk
      • In the Theocracy of the Pale the only legal religion was worship of Pholtus. All other religions were forbidden.
      • In many areas religions based on evil deities were officially forbidden because of the death and destruction their worshippers tended to cause.
    • Forgotten Realms
      • Several countries in Faerun outlaw the worship of Talos (not to be confused with the Elder Scrolls deity), the god of storms, destruction and natural disasters.
    • Eberron
      • The Church of the Silver Flame rules Thrane as a theocratic state, and while religions like the Sovereign Host are allowed within its borders, their adherents find life less comfortable, and few other religions, particularly the Blood of Vol whose association with the undead is utterly abhorrent to the Church, survive for long.
      • The only religion allowed within the confines of Riedra is the Path of Inspiration.
  • In the backstory of Warhammer 40,000, the God-Emperor of Mankind promoted state atheism, banning religion in an attempt to starve the Chaos Gods to death. It didn't work due to a research failure on his part: the Chaos gods are fueled not by prayer, but by emotion. The Imperium now ironically worships him, though other religions are still not permitted.
    • There are actually countless variations on the cult of the Emperor, as establishing a single version on the million worlds of the Imperium is impossible. Instead, whether or or not a particular cult is heretical or not is basically up to the local governor / Ecclesiarchy, and the Inquisition intervenes if they think they're getting too lax. This has the unfortunate side effect of allowing genestealer cults to flourish, as unlike Chaos cults who are dead-set on toppling the Emperor and whose acts are rather obvious, the genestealers are allowed to keep worshipping their father figure, which then leads to the Tyranid fleets attacking.
  • Warhammer: for the most part, only the cults of Chaos are outlawed by the church of Sigmar, as most other religions have non-Always Chaotic Evil gods (for example, there's a Friendly Rivalry between followers of a War God and a bear god).
  • Shadowrun: The elven nation of Tir Tairngire banned the Universal Brotherhood cult within its borders. They had good reason to: the organization in question is devoted to converting human beings into insect spirits. Aztlan revoked the Roman Catholic Church's tax-exempt status in 2027 and then outlawed it in 2041, in order to promote Aztechnology's Aztec revival religion.
  • Pathfinder
    • Razmiran outlaws worship of any deity but their god-king Razmir within the nation's borders.
    • After a particularly long and bloody religious Civil War, the nation of Rahadoum outlawed all religion and divine magic within its borders.
  • On Mars in Rocket Age the chief religious order, the Orthodox Fellowship, considers every other Martian religion or sect heretical and illegal. Whether their influence actually spreads that far is debatable, but they enforce their bans as much as possible.

  • The main characters of Androcles and the Lion are a group of Christians about to be thrown to the lions for their religion.

Video Games
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as part of the White-Gold Concordat that ended the war between the Third Empire of Tamriel and the Third Aldmeri Dominion, the worship of Talos, the Ninth Divine, the God of War and Governance and the Hero God of Man, was banned in the Empire. When he was a mortal, Talos was called Tiber Septim, a Nord warrior who established the Third Empire by conquering Tamriel and shattering the Second Aldmeri Dominion, which left a lot of elves quite angry, and to this day, many of them refuse to acknowledge the ascension of Talos as one of the Divines. The banning of Talos worship has driven a wedge between the Empire and Skyrim, Talos's homeland, which is aggravated by the Empire permitting the Thalmor (agents of the Dominion) to travel freely throughout the Empire (especially Skyrim) to suppress Talos worship and arrest its practitioners. The Thalmor are attempting to unmake Talos by denying him his worship, with the ultimate goal of doing the same to humanity itself, even if it means destroying the world.
  • Anton's campaign in Might and Magic: Heroes VI begins with him being declared Duke of the Griffin Duchy and outlawing any religion except the worship of Elrath, the Dragon of Light. This upsets the orc tribes who live in the lands bordering Anton's Duchy, who prefer ancestor worship over organised religion, and Baron Djordje, who maintains temples to Elrath's brother Ylath, Dragon of the Skies, in his lands.
  • In the Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series, the Brotherhood of Nod (a hybrid of a religion and a nation state) is considered illegal in all territories under GDI control or influence due to Nod actively pursuing multiple wars with GDI and its constituent nations. After the Second Tiberium War, with the world's division into Zones, the GDI controlled Blue Zones enforce their ban on Nod's teachings, while the Yellow Zones not under GDI occupation are effectively a Nod theocracy. The few places that aren't either are usually part of the mutant Forgotten.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Revanites are an illegal cult within the Empire that follows the teachings of Revan, a man who had been both Jedi and Sith almost three hundred years earlier.
    • Also on Voss, the dreamwalkers practice forbidden rituals.
  • BioShock
    • In BioShock all religion is illegal in the city of Rapture, which results in Bibles and other religious items being smuggled in with other contraband.
    • In BioShock Infinite, the only legal religion in Columbia is that of the Founders with Zachary Comstock as its prophet, which means that worshipers of other religions (such as Buddhism, which was practiced by Chen Li and his wife in one timeline) must do so in secret. Booker DeWitt comments that Comstock isn't crazy about the idea of people worshiping idols that aren't him.
  • The Chantry in Dragon Age has enough clout in most human nations to prevent any other religions from taking root. The Qunari are even less tolerant of other religions in their lands.
  • In Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, the player character belongs to an Inquisition which exists to suppress all religion, although its authority isn't recognised everywhere. It's independent of governments (having actually started as a secret society during the rule of The Theocracy), and isn't always well-liked, so Alita is told to be discreet about her allegiance. She doesn't conceal her antipathy to religion completely, though, and sometimes snaps at people who express religious views even though her current mission isn't actually related to the suppression of religion.
    Black Fang captain: I pray I will have a chance repay you.
    Alita: You can start by not praying.

Western Animation
  • In Futurama, The Church of Trek became an incredibly popular and powerful powerful it started taking over governments. Since The Trek Wars prior to the start of the series, any reference to The Church or its sacred texts are explicitly banned.

Real Life
  • Christianity was banned in the Roman Empire due to political and cultural reasons (Christians refused to acknowledge the Caesar as a God Emperor) among other things, until Emperor Constantine claimed to have been led to victory by the Abrahamic God after seeing Christian symbols in a vision. He legalized it, though he didn't convert himself until he was on his deathbed, and some fifty years later under Flavius Theodosius Augustus the situation was quite reversed.
  • During about the same period (give or take 100 years), Judaism was banned by the Romans because they (as well as their refusal to acknowledge the God Emperor) found Jewish practices strange, notably circumcision. After the Romans put down several Jewish rebellions, they decided it was better to just grant the Jews religious freedom, including relieving them of any civic duties that were against their religion, provided that they prayed to YHWH on behalf of the emperor.
  • As you can see from the previous examples, despite the Roman reputation for religious liberalism, monotheism was illegal in the Roman Empire, mainly because of the political refusal to acknowledge the God Emperor as a God. In polytheistic religions, especially those of Greek Mythology and Egyptian Mythology, they were tolerated and very, very popular. Like the Greek pantheon, Isis of Egypt was even included in the Roman pantheon.
  • As Karl Marx famously called religion "the opiate of the masses"note  communist governments including the Soviet Union have typically suppressed religion in favor of devotion to the state (Communist Albania went so far as to ban religious practice entirely). Usually this took the form of closing down houses of worship, refusing permission to open more, banning missionary activities, imprisoning or killing clergy, teaching atheism in schools, taking control of religious organizations, and denying believers any jobs in government. While the Soviet Union was never as successful as it claimed at this, their policy changed somewhat during World War II when Stalin framed the war in older, nationalistic ways to help the effort in the Great Patriotic War. After that, the Soviet Union tolerated Eastern Orthodoxy as long as it was not public practice. It reached its greatest extent in Albania, where all religious practice was outlawed.
  • Although Catholicism and Protestantism are both part of Christianity, for a while, some European countries would adhere to one and ban the other with extreme prejudice. Anti-clericalism, a reaction against the traditional influence and position of the Catholic Church, has taken place in many countries in waves since the Protestant Reformation.
    • For a relatively short time during the French Revolution, Christianity was banned and the cult of Reason (and later the cult of the Supreme Being) was instituted. As you can imagine, it ended badly. Before this, Church lands were confiscated, monastic orders banned, and clergy made to swear an oath of loyalty to the state. Those who refused often were interned, with many dying from harsh conditions. On the other hand, those who did swear were denounced by the Pope.
    • A good example of the way this worked was England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Technically, the only religion permitted was the Church of England, and various laws, known as the Penal laws, were instituted to ensure that both Catholics and Dissenting Protestants (Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Lutherans, etc.) were kept firmly outside of the main stream of society, being prevented from holding office or attending religious meetings within five miles of a town. These laws were a major sore point between the major "parties," the Tories (who were by and large High Church Anglicans—except for the ones who were Catholics) and the Whigs (who were by and large Low Church Anglicans—except for the ones who were Dissenters who occasionally took CoE communion to allow them to hold office) throughout the 18th century, and their enforcement fluctuated based on who held office (although the general trend was that they were enforced less and less over time). The Penal laws were repealed in the 19th century as part of the process of Catholic Emancipation.
  • Nazi Germany was notoriously antisemitic, and outlawing the religion of Judaism was only the beginning of worse things to come for the Jews of Europe. Hitler recognized that Christianity was a religion born from Judaism, and had plans to abolish Christianity after the war and declare himself the messiah of a new religion centered around the Fatherland. While in power, he settled for shutting down dissident religious organizations, jailing (sometimes killing) Christians who wouldn't go along, while also setting up his own "German Christian" movement plus a state-controlled Protestant Reich Church, while making an agreement with the Catholics to appease them temporarily. The Confessing Church, made up of dissident Protestants that refused to join, was driven underground, with members subjected to the treatment stated above. "YHVH" was even ordered erased wherever it was displayed in churches, as this was the "Jewish" name of God. In one instance, local Nazi officials ordered even crosses removed from churches, but this was a step too far as you might except. After protests, the edict was withdrawn. The Nazis also had plans to turn Jesus into an Aryan if they couldn't simply abolish Christianity and replace it with their own religion.
    • The Nazis outlawed atheist and freethinking groups in Germany in 1933. In one instance, the headquarters of the German Freethinkers League wound up being used by the churches of Berlin as a bureau to convert people and give religious advice. In a lesser example, the SS oath denounced atheist, while banning atheists from joining.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned Christianity in 1587, ordering all Christian missionaries to leave Japan. He saw the religion as a threat to his dream of unifying Japan, and politically, this was done to reduce the influence of the Christian daimyo of Kyushu. A decade later in 1597, Hideyoshi had twenty-six Christians, known today as the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan, crucified as an example to native Japanese seeking to convert to the religion. The banning of Christianity went even further after the Shimabara Rebellion, and (even after Christianity was again made legal in 1871 with the reopening of the country) there are still some "hidden Christians" (kakure Kirishitan) who descend from the survivors of the persecution.
    • This is in contrast to his predecessor Oda Nobunaga, who kept the Christians around (mainly because he wanted their guns) but had all but declared war on certain Buddhist sects (who unlike the Christians were a political threat to him). This ended up being his undoing.
  • Missouri Executive Order 44 of 1838 stated that all Mormons in Missouri "must be exterminated or driven from the state," essentially outlawing Mormonism within. Several massacres of Mormons took place, with the rest fleeing. It wasn't officially rescinded until 1976.
  • In the Tanakh (Old Testament to Christian readers), worship of anything other than the one and only God was illegal according to many laws and decrees by the prophets and is listed as the First Commandment ("Thou shalt have no other gods before me."). But for much of Israel's history many rulers not only allowed worship of other things but actively facilitated it. They were okay with magi even in periods where they otherwise had officially banned all other forms of worship too, since Cyrus The Great was viewed as God's servant foretold by Isaiah. Today Israel officially allows any religion to be practiced, but accounts from self-identified "pagans" claim they would be cut to pieces if they publicly admitted to worshiping someone like Anat or Thor.
  • In Christendom anything but Christianity was discouraged and was often made illegal. Martin Luther was known for initially catering to Jews but then ordering their expulsion later on after they refused to convert (he had thought that their failure to was because of the Catholic Church's corruption). The Spanish Empire notably expelled all non-Christians after the Reconquista, the reconquering of all the areas settled by Muslims. Later on, the Spanish Inquisition clamped down hard on people suspected of practicing Judaism or Islam in secret (many had previously converted under threat of expulsion), burning them at the stake if they refused to repent.
  • In around the 5th century CE the Sassanid Persian Empire was intolerant of any religion other than Zoroastrianism, enforcing a ban on them and attempting to force its Christian Armenian subjects to convert. The ensuing rebellion, led by Vartan Mamikonian, ended in a Pyrrhic Victory for the Persians and eventually led to Persia becoming more lenient due to their needing Armenia's cooperation in dealing with the invading Huns. Modern Armenians credit Vartan's revolt for saving Armenia's religious identity.
    • Zoroastrianism and paganism itself were banned in the Armenian Kingdom in the 4th century, until the kingdom got taken over and partitioned by Persia and Rome. Conversion to Christianity still didn't happen overnight, but the temples to the various Armenian gods were destroyed soon after the king converted.
  • This is defied by the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution. The "establishment clause" and "free exercise clause" forbid the government from banning both formations and practices of religions (to avoid the religious strife that had plagued much of Europe for centuries), with obvious exceptions such as human sacrifice. Many countries have similar provisions, though the specifics vary. What counts as "establish" and "free exercise" remain sticky issues in the US as well. It became especially murky during the Cold War, as atheism was equated with communism and the United States added Christian references to both the Pledge of Allegiance and paper money. While there was no official ban on atheism (which would have been difficult given it isn't a religion itself), suspected communists were subject to blacklists or the attention of U.S. intelligence agencies, making it difficult for anyone to openly express disbelief during this time period. Even now, open atheism makes people virtually unelectable, with atheists the least popular group in the US. Nonetheless, the number of atheists has grown steadily.
  • While Singapore is a secular society and tolerates other religions, the Jehovah's Witnesses are banned within the city state (mainly because Singapore has a mandatory military draft, and Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to serve in any military or swear loyalty to any person or thing other than God). Similarly, the Unification Church is banned in Singapore because the government sees the church as a cult.