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Freedom comes and goes in waves, but each wave crests higher and each trough sinks a bit less than the previous one. That's the analysis of Fraser Institute fellow Fred McMahon, and it provides a hopeful note to the awful news that freedom seems to be on the wane worldwide.

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The 2018 version of the Human Freedom Index, published jointly by the Cato Institute, Canada's Fraser Institute and Germany's Liberales Institute, was released earlier this month. It shows that despite world history being filled with evidence of the awful things that accompany it, despotism is on the rise. Authoritarian leaders, promising enticing visions of law and order, efficient government and a return to some imagined past glory, seem to be popping up all over.

Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Argentina and Egypt have seen notable declines. The countries at the top and bottom of the list are no surprise. New Zealand and Switzerland are the world's freest. Venezuela and Syria bring up the rear. But the United States comes in a troubling 17th.

The report is important because it measures freedom, or the lack of coercive constraint, by 79 different indicators. One of its large subcategories is religious freedom, which has become an acute concern worldwide.

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The Human Freedom Index puts it this way:

"The exercise of religion can be both a supremely private matter involving a person's strongest beliefs and a social affair practiced in an organized way among larger groups. Restrictions on that fundamental freedom have been the source of some of the bloodiest and most drawn-out conflicts throughout history, and they continue to animate discord in numerous countries today."

While each of the study's metrics is important, religious freedom goes to the heart of human conscience. It is a basic and fundamental tenet of human dignity and liberty. Its suppression ought to be a warning sign, like the proverbial canary struggling to breathe in a coal mine, that trouble lies ahead.

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— (Salt Lake City) Deseret News

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