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Illegal Religion

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"The Empire tells us we cannot worship holy Talos. How can man set aside a god? How can a true Nord of Skyrim cast aside the god that rose from our own heartland?"

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 fit only 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.
  • Prevalent in more modern or futuristic settings, an Emperor Scientist or similar wants their society to embrace scientific progress and sees religion as trappings of the unenlightened past or what's holding them back. They often view the religious as incapable of scientific thought despite any evidence to the contrary.

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 will be given ample Kick the Dog moments, usually involving Human Sacrifice, to make it abundantly clear that 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 edits civil due to the very sensitive nature of religion.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: A storyline involving the fictional country of Slokovia features this trope when a group of citizens begin worshiping Thor (who has become the new King of Asgard following Odin's apparent demise) and are violently repressed by the local dictator. Outraged at his followers' persecution, Thor tries to intervene but causes a diplomatic crisis because Slokovia is bordered by Latveria, which is ruled by Doctor Doom, who threatens to retaliate if the Slokovian leader is harmed, forcing his fellow Avengers to clash with the God of Thunder.
  • Batman: Holy Terror: America under the Commonwealth has outlawed all religions besides Puritanism. The ones explicitly persecuted are Catholicism (as referenced by the Commonwealth's war against South American nations) and Judaism (Dr. Erdel is said to be an Category Traitor for being a Jewish collaborator to the Regime).
  • ElfQuest: Once he starts getting delusions of grandeur, Gromul Djun bans worship of the humans' deity Threksht, and making offerings to or idols of the Hidden Ones (i.e., the elves in the forest) while also declaring himself to be a god, whom they alone must worship. After this and some other outrages, it's not long until they rebel.
  • Jupiter's Legacy: One of Walter's reforms for the US is abolishing religion. We later learn that all houses of worship became schools, with Brandon saying they're being put to good use now. This, as you'd expect, prompts protests and even terrorist attacks from religious people.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Chasing Dragons: One of the many draconian laws Stannis subjugates the Ironborn to after crushing Balon's Rebellion is to ban worship of the Drowned God, on the grounds that the religion is blamed for fueling the Ironborn's Rape, Pillage, and Burn culture. This forces devout Drowned God worshippers to either continue to do so in secret, or flee to Robert's more religiously tolerant kingdom in Myr.
  • The End of the World (FernWithy): The Capitol has banned religious worship, but it's shown several times that most of District 8 still practices Judaism in secret.
  • According to The Victors Project, all religion in Panem is banned except for worship of the state (although people in Districts 7 and 10 still believe in a higher power, as does Enobaria's best friend in District 2). When the District 2 Victors celebrate Wintermas, Boudicca offers a thanksgiving prayer to the Capitol and President Snow, and all colloquial references to God are instead replaced with "Snow", including in cursing.
    Beetee: Of all the Snow-damned, idiotic, foolish stunts…
  • In Voyages of the Wild Sea Horse, the Sisterhood of the Golden Serpent was banned by the World Government due to it worshipping crime, making it a "criminal cult" in two senses of the phrase.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Apocalypse film series, Christianity is considered illegal to practice, as One Nation Earth, ruled by the Antichrist, actively hunts down all who do.
  • Captive State: Public religious displays are banned, as shown in background references such as a sign saying that praying and congregating is prohibited. This sets up a switch when one of the resistance members tells another to take something off because "you might as well wear a target". The obvious choice is the bandage covering where her tracker was, but it's the cross necklace she's wearing. We also hear a rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with the lyrics edited to remove any religious references. It helps explain just how many people oppose the aliens' occupation, since this would alienate the majority.
  • In C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, the Christian Reform Act bans any religion not based on Christianity. It's noted that there was much debate before deciding that Catholicism was safe under the act, and that the Jews were nearly thrown out, but Jefferson Davis's dying wish (and reminder that it was a Jew who saved the Confederacy) allowed for a small settlement of Jews on Long Island.
  • 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.
  • Gold Through the Fire: Christianity gets portrayed this way in the Soviet Union. However, it wasn't actually outlawed, although persecution and restriction did happen.
  • The Holy Office: Judaism, along with Islam and Protestantism, are outlawed in New Spain. This doesn't prevent the Jews from practicing in secret.
  • Loving Annabelle: Annabelle is not permitted to have Buddhist prayer beads, presumably as it's in a Catholic school. It isn't that she's Buddhist herself (they're a memento from her girlfriend), but the effect is the same. She's punished for refusing this with wearing a huge crucifix, but gives in later.
  • Silence takes place in feudal Japan where Christianity is outlawed by the Shogunate, and it has to be practiced in secret by those who believe in it. It's revealed that the Big Bad knows about the crypto-Christians, as he admits to the main protagonist, but isn't really interested in persecuting them, since they are a minority and don't really represent a threat to the state so long as they are out of sight and abjure their faith in public.
  • Starship Troopers 3: Marauder: Religion, although not prohibited entirely, is much discouraged by the government (which appears to take an official atheist stance), with anyone outspoken called "religious fanatics" and repressed. At the end, however, they realize that religion is useful, switching course entirely to declare that God does exist and make their own very nationalist interpretation of Christianity the state church for instilling loyalty.
  • 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. Rogue One shows the Church of the Force also was banned and its holy sites destroyed, because the Empire was afraid of any belief in this. The new Star Wars Expanded Universe books also say they banned religion in general (though obviously it was hard to enforce), with atheism promoted instead (including here not just disbelief in gods but also the Force).
  • V for Vendetta: Islam has apparently been outlawed by the Norsefire regime, since Gordon is shot just for possessing a Qur'an (even when he's not Muslim). Presumably all Muslims have been killed or imprisoned by them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "The End of the World", this is mentioned as an Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking gag.
    Announcement: Guests are reminded that Platform 1 forbids the use of weapons, teleportation, and religion.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Being Catholic or Jewish is apparently a capital crime now. We see a priest hanged from the Wall, along with a man wearing a Star of David symbol. Catholic cathedrals are demolished. Later on, June hides out with a family of closeted Muslims, finding they hid their Quran and prayer rug while they make a point of attending church to publicly fit in. The man, Omar, is hanged with the green crescent and star symbol of Islam, indicating this is illegal as well. We can surmise all religions but the official one of the regime are banned and punishable by death.
  • The Man in the High Castle: Christianity has been banned in the Japanese Pacific States, and this is implied within the Reich as well, given that even a Neutral Zone book shop owner only sells Bibles under the table. The Marshal finds this out and confirms with his reaction that it's basically contraband, even though the Neutral Zone technically has no laws. Hitler actually did have plans to replace Christianity with a new religion centering on himself, according to some papers uncovered by the Allies. Judaism was banned in Nazi Germany already. In this setting, Imperial Japan has followed suit; Shinto is the official religion, and practicing others is punishable by death. However, this seems more of a move to appease their Nazi allies than any real antipathy, as all non-Japanese are equally second-class citizens regardless of religion. Japanese officials don't mind looking the other way unless they can use the laws to their advantage, such as blackmailing Frank for his Jewish heritage.
  • Midnight Sun (2016): Anders relates that the Sami religion was suppressed in the past, with their sacred drums being burned and shamans prosecuted as witches. Because of this, shamans mostly live in hiding to this day.
  • Noughts & Crosses: It's mentioned that a lot of Nought religious celebrations are outlawed. Prime Minister Folami allowing them to celebrate Midsummer is part of her reformist approach.
  • The Spanish Princess: Oviedo is a crypto-Muslim, because all Muslims and Jews were forced to convert or leave Spain. He, like those who remained, is officially Catholic. Thus, if this were discovered, the Spanish Inquisition would try him as a heretic, carrying the death sentence if Oviedo didn't repent.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "The Obsolete Man", the State claims to have determined that God does not exist and therefore has banned any form of religion. Possessing a Bible is a crime punishable by death. Wordsworth, being a devout Christian, has kept his hidden for twenty years.

    Mythology, Religion, and Folklore 
  • The Bible:
    • 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).
    • In the apocryphal books of the Maccabees, Judaism as practiced by the Jews that chose to remain faithful to God's Law was considered illegal by the rulers like Antiochus Epiphanes whenever they forced their Greek religion and culture upon the Jews.
  • Defied by Dionysus in Classical Mythology, who was known for killing rulers who made worship of him illegal.

  • 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 
  • BioShock
    • In BioShock, all organized religion is illegal in the city of Rapture (though Andrew Ryan says in BioShock 2 that citizens are allowed to worship in the privacy of their home), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In Morrowind, the Tribunal Temple is the dominant religious force among the Dunmer people. While a term in the Armistice (which joined Morrowind to the Empire as a Voluntary Vassal) forced them to allow the Imperial Nine Divines religion to practice within Morrowind, other religions are still effectively banned. Some, like Daedra worship, are even punishable by death.
    • In Skyrim, as part of the White-Gold Concordat which ended the Great War between the vestigial Third Tamriellic Empire and the re-formed Aldmeri Dominion (it's third iteration, under Thalmor rule), the worship of Talos, the Ninth Divine, the God of War and Governance, and the Hero God of Mankind, was banned in the Empire. Talos is a Deity of Human Origin, and the ascended god-form of Tiber Septim (possibly among others), who established the Third Empire by conquering Tamriel and shattering the Second Aldmeri Dominion, which left many Mer (Elves) quite angry. To this day, many of them refuse to acknowledge the ascension of Talos as one of the Divines. The ban on Talos worship has driven a wedge between the Empire and Skyrim, Septim's (supposed) homeland, which is aggravated by the Empire permitting the Thalmor to travel freely throughout the Empire (especially Skyrim) to suppress Talos worship and arrest its practitioners (or worse). As it turns out, the ultimate goal of the Thalmor is to destroy Talos by depriving him of worship. The Thalmor follow the extremist Aldmeri religious belief that the creation of the mortal world was a cruel trick by a malevolent god which robbed their divine ancestors of their pre-creation divinity. By destroying Talos, they hope to undo creation, believing that it will allow them to return to that state of pre-creation divinity.
    • Throughout the series, Daedra worship in general is largely frowned upon, though not technically illegal during the Third Empire. Still, many of those who follow the most malevolent and dangerous of the Princes, like Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal, and, to a lesser extent Namira, Vaermina, Boethiah, and Hircine (due to how their worship generally involves bringing death and suffering to others), are branded as dangerous cultists (or worse). Only a few of the Daedric Princes are considered inoffensive enough throughout most of Tamriel to be tolerated, such as Azura, Nocturnal, and Meridia.
    • As mentioned, the various Cyrodillic Empires tend to dislike the idea of outlawing religions for theological reasons, as a lingering reaction to the extremism of the Marukhati period — which does not mean it does not outlaw religions, it just does so for political reasons, like connections to anti-Imperial movements (many Meridian cults), being involved with conspiracies to usurp the throne (there was a crackdown on Mehrunes Dagon cults after the Simulacrum), or attacking the legitimacy of the Septim Dynasty (Arcturianism).
  • Pagan Min in Far Cry 4 wants the citizens of Kyrat to worship him as a God-Emperor, and has outlawed the old religions and social gatherings at places of religious significance, such as temples and mani wheels. If Sabal ends up taking over at the end, he outlaws every other religion aside from the Kyrati religion and puts all others to death.
  • Heroes of Might and Magic: 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 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 to repay you.
    Alita: You can start by not praying.
  • In Pillars of Eternity, after the Saints War and the spreading of Waidwen's Legacy, the worship of Eothas has since been outlawed and the followers actively persecuted. Éder, one of your companions, is one of the last remaining worshipers of Eothas due to the fact that he fought against St. Waidwen during the war (he doubted Waidwen's claim to being a prophet and the possibility of him actually being right personally haunts him).
  • 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.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a flyer Geralt can read on a notice board mentions that King Radovid has declared the Eternal Fire the only permitted religion in Redania, and wearing the symbols of any other religion is punishable by being burned at the stake.

    Visual Novels 
  • A sort-of-example in Daughter for Dessert. The Church of the Aquarian Revelation is not itself illegal, but it has associated itself with illegal activities such as drug use.

    Web Original 
  • The Dwendalian Empire from Critical Role has a small list of state-approved religions whose teaching are deemed in line with Imperial doctrine, and requires all religious practices to take place within state-sponsored temples. Any private religious practice or proven worship of a non-approved god can lead to a fine and a month's imprisonment.
  • Para Imperium: The Federation doesn't tolerate any meme that can make its hosts willing to kill to propagate it, and the infected are quarantined by removing the integral nanotechnology that makes them immortal and exiling them to low-tech "outworlds".

    Western Animation 
  • 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 Storykeepers centers around an illegal religion. The main characters are ancient Christians during the reign of Nero.


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