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.
- 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.
Mythology and Folklore
- 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). Borogravia's neighbour and arch-rival Zlobenia banned the Nugganatic religion, which was probably for the best.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Dungeons & Dragons
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Futurama, The Church of Trek became an incredibly popular and powerful religion...so 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.
- The Ancient Greek and Roman world were tolerant of religion so long as it did not contravene the Gods of the State, i.e. official religion.
- One of the charges against Socrates at his trial was that he practiced private beliefs against the state religion. This led them to accuse him of impiety, corrupting the youth and subverting the state.
- The Romans faced one of the greatest struggles during the Jewish Revolts not because they saw Judaism as illegal per se, but because their occupation was violating, perhaps unwittingly, Jewish customs and traditions, namely Pompey marching into the Temple's inner sanctum, the "Holy of Holies", that their Puppet King Herod was unpopular and this sparked a major religious uprising that continued until the Fall of Masada. Judaism would continue to trouble the Romans with further rebellions until Hadrian crushed and scattered the Jews into diaspora and even renamed Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, forbidding the re-establishment of the Temple. Jews who adjusted to Roman customs, and accepted Roman rule were not proscribed but the main tenets of their religion and its ties to Jerusalem were definitely forbidden.
- Christianity endured periods of persecution (albeit considerably exaggerated), indifference and finally active patronage on account to its growth during the "crisis of the third century". Christianity initially faced objections because they refused to acknowledge the Caesar as a God Emperor, and the fact that its hero Jesus was crucified which to Roman sensibilities marked him as a criminal and Outlaw beyond the pale. The Roman elite such as Lucian of Samosata saw Christianity as similar to other Roman cults and mysteries that cropped across Rome at the time and saw it with bemused contempt. Eventually its appeal among Roman lower classes spread and finally it attained official support from the 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.
- When Christianity started gaining ground, the old pagan religions suffered declining faithful, proscription, and dereliction of its property. Temples of Jupiter and Mars were used as roadside privies, and subject to vandalism and Monumental Damage. Christians also burnt many books and teachings from the era they now called "pagan". The Emperor Julian the Apostate, raised as a Christian but seeking and identifying with Hellenism sought to end Christian persecution of pagans and Jews, while limiting its spread. He made efforts to halt the tide, but he died in battle after a brie reign and all his attempts at religious co-existence ended with him, and pagans were actively persecuted, temples and statues were destroyed (except for those preserved by the state and some responsible bishops and priests), and fell into disrepair.
- The Roman Catholic Church actively prohibited heresies and declared crusades against The Remnant of pagan communities. Although sometimes this policy was pursued independently, for instance Charlemagne who crushed pagans in Saxony, the Church generally condoned or refused to acknowledge this violence. This includes the Wendish Crusade and the notoriously bloody Albigensian Crusade which crushed Catharism, a revival of Manichaeanism that spread from Hungary to Southern France.
- Contrary to general belief, the Roman Catholic Church never pursued an official co-ordinated policy to proscribe and persecute Judaism. Some Popes were quite tolerant and even liberal (such as Pope Alexander VI), others were openly anti-semitic and limited Jews to ghettoes, low level bishops and priests could be openly anti-semitic and encourage pogroms during the Black Death and in other eras, while other Bishops in Germany and Hungary sheltered and protected Jews during the People's Crusade (the starting point of populist anti-semitism in European history). However Kings and Queens appealing to the sentiments of their subjects, and expand the control of the local Catholic Church would promote policies of expulsion and Edward The First banned Jews from England, Philip the Fair proscribed their property and expelled them and other nations followed similar policies.
- In the history of Spain, the Reconquista and the early years of The Spanish Inquisition featured mass persecution of Jews and Muslims across Spain, many of whom were forced to convert. Even after conversion, they were labeled New Christian and treated as second-class citizens to distinguish them from Old Christians. There was also accusations that some Jews and Muslims forced into conversion were Hiding Behind Religion and practicing their old beliefs Beneath Suspicion of christian piety. Some of these accusations were actually true and would be recognized and celebrated today as an act of resistance on the part of oppressed people preserving their culture from tyranny, but at the time it was a serious slur and led to many New Christians to backdate and fake their lineage to fit in. Those who refused to convert became refugees, and many of them, ironically enough, found a home in Rome, welcomed by Pope Alexander VI (who was Spanish), who gave them rights to live without any pressure of conversion.note .
- When Protestantism arrived, the reigning Catholic Church saw it as another heresy rather than a separate religion. However Protestantism attracted the support of Kings and Lords in Germany, Holland, Sweden and later England. This would lead to the Reformation and later the Wars of Religion.
- Protestantism in turn persecuted other minority faiths, and other Protestant sects. Martin Luther was fiercely anti-semitic and wrote many pamphlets that was revived by the Nazis, and he also allied with state authorities against protestant faiths that were more egalitarian than he was (namely Thomas Muntzer) and suppressed it.
- In England, the Anglican Church sponsored by the King Henry VIII would persecute English catholics, shut down monasteries. Later protestant English monarchs and Oliver Cromwell, would later persecute Irish people and create division by encouraging settlements of Protestant nobility among a largely Catholic peasantry leading to divisions (initially religious, later national, now ethnic) that persist to the present day. Catholicism was never declared illegal officially but Catholics in England and Ireland were treated as second class citizens (albeit better than Jews and other minorities) until the 19th Century.
- The Anglican Church persecuted protestant dissenters such as Lollards, Quakers and other sects, many of whom settled in America to escape the Church of England. Because dissenting protestants were such a big part of American society and politics, they disliked an official organized Church authority (at the time that is), and this led to consensus for the First Amendment, a policy that forbids any official government position or endorsement of religion, that separates Church and State and also upholds religious liberties.
- The French Revolution resulted in the first instance of secular persecution of Christianity
- On account of the Catholic Church being the largest landowner in France at a time of economic and political crisis, many French politicians, writers and thinkers instituted comprehensive policies to seize and distribute the land to peasants, middle-class aspirants, and liberal nobles. They also instituted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, demanding that French Priests swear to the French government and abjure their vows to the Pope. A few priests took the Constitutional Oath, namely the famous anti-racist and abolitionist Henri Gregoire but many of France's devout opposed this change and most priests refused to take the vows, playing a major role in unleashing the counter-revolution and the Revolutionary hardliners became enraged at their continued and active defiance.
- It must be noted that the Revolutionaries gave equal rights to all minority religions (Protestants, Jews) and supported the Constitutional Clergy and mainly targeted pre-Revolutionary Catholics. During the Terror, they released a policy of Dechristianization, which led to vandalism (albeit considerably exaggerated) of many Churches and Cemeteries. The cemeteries had graffiti proclaiming "Death is an eternal sleep", priests and nuns were guillotined, monasteries were vandalized. The Notre Dame Cathdral saw its altar attacked and replaced with a "Statue of Liberty" (the Roman Goddess Libertynote ). Some Revolutionaries, such as Robespierre opposed Dechristianization and ended it, while Henri Gregoire, the Constitutional Clergyman advocated defending Church property and opposed vandalism.
- Karl Marx famously remarked that religion is "the opium of the masses"note . Communist revolutionaries invoked this remark and officially promoted atheism among their cadres, education systems and general propaganda.
- In Russia, as in France, the ruling Orthodox Church was a powerful presence in administration and society, owned much property and was widely regarded as a Corrupt Church. The Orthodox Church in earlier centuries promoted religious persecution of other minority religions and dissenters (Old Believers) and condemned internationally for its anti-semitism and the part its senior figures played in promoting pogroms. Vladimir Lenin initially suppressed the Orthodox Church but moderated his stance to minority religions and promoted atheism in society and education, and forbade religious education in schools. Josef Stalin increased the persecution of all religions (even minorities) and the Orthodox Church at first before reviving it during World War II.
- Other left-wing groups took anti-catholic activities more seriously. Mexico saw the Cristero War during The Thirties where priests were banned and driven underground and religious iconography was often seen as a mark of treachery. Communist Albania went so far as to ban religious practice entirely. Mao Zedong suppressed traditional worship and practises and persecuted Tibetan Buddhism but later successors driven by the fascination of tourists to Tibet have promoted lamaseries and moderated their stance while making images, texts and addressed of the Dalai Lama into taboo.
- Nazi Germany was notoriously antisemitic and scientific racialist. It outlawed Judaism as a religion and even persecuted ethnic and cultural Jews, or Jews who had converted to Christianity (for sincere and or social careerist reasons).
- Hitler and the Nazis were not entirely friends of Christianity either. Hitler was publicly a Christian but the Nazi policy of state control by party meant that they clamped down on religious instructions and interfered in doctrines of the Church. Some Catholics and Protestants supported the Nazis but those who didn't could face jail time and execution, deportation to concentration camps, while dissident protestants who opposed Nazism were executed.note
- The Nazis outlawed atheist, freethinking groups as well as Freemasonry 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 atheists, while banning them from joining. Freemasons were also deported and executed in Concentration Camps alongside Jews and Gypsies.
- 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.
- Later historians note that the Japanese policy was a result of the advice given to them by Protestant Dutch traders. They pointed out that the Catholic Church had promoted colonialist oppression in South America among Native peoples and destroyed the Mayan and Aztec ruling class. The Japanese shogunate fearful of Christian expansion and persecution felt he had to take a pre-emptive strike and force Christians to apostasize. Notably while Catholic Christianity was banned from Japan during its period of isolation, Dutch traders and Protestant merchantmen were welcome at the port of Nagasaki (originally a Catholic majority port and seat), so long as they toed the fumienote and stayed within limits. This continued until the end of isolation.
- 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 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 with 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.
- 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.