In a dystopic world, amongst many other things, religion has been outlawed and anyone found to be practicing will be punished accordingly.

For minor infringements a large fine is given to the citizen.

For multiple or severe infringements the citizen will be forced to undertake a “re-education” program to lessen likelihood of further infringements.

What ways could a draconian government monitor for people practising their religion? (And maybe other concealable infringements)

There are a few methods I think would assist with this.

  • Lots of CCTV
  • Secret police and trained spies -”Concerned” citizens who will be rewarded for reporting citizens practicing religion (Or any infringements)
  • ”Concerned” Citizens who will be punished for not reporting citizens practicing religion (Or any infringements)
  • Communication monitoring (Phone calls, text messages, email, etc...)
  • Automated silent drones programmed to monitor high risk citizens
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    $\begingroup$ Is a specific religion banned or all religions? In which case, the first problem is for your government to define religion, beause many thing can be considered a religion and they gray areas can get tricky very very quickly. Even banning just one religion is tough, because they tend to appear new but really really similar totally differently named religions [citation needed] $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Mar 1 '17 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. Make sure what is religion and what is not religion. Lots of religious practices survived as Yoga classes in communist Czechoslovakia, because Yoga was "excercise" and not religion. (Funnily enough, even christian religions were hidden as yoga classes) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 1 '17 at 11:14
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    $\begingroup$ Totalitarian governments never have any difficulty with deciding what is religion. It's anybody doing something the government dislikes and wants stamped out. Usually they're called political opponents. Religionists have a bad habit of being political opponents. Dictatorships aren't playing word games or trying to define what is a religion, they're in the crush-the-opposition business. Banning religion is probably an acceptable political strategy. $\endgroup$ – a4android Mar 1 '17 at 12:13
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    $\begingroup$ You actually doesn't need a dystopian government to achieve that. A prosper, well-educated and enlightened people will weed religion out of themselves in time if you just stop pushing it to the people. Religion doesn't sustain itself on a educated, skeptic community. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Mar 1 '17 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Tsar: {Citation needed} $\endgroup$ – Sean Duggan Mar 1 '17 at 20:33

10 Answers 10


You will require your chief weapons for your inquisition:

  • Fear - Anyone practicing religion must be publically punished either psychologically or physically.
  • Surprise - Rapid (and completely unexpected) blitz searches of any space that could hold a religious gathering and immediate punishment
  • Ruthless efficiency - Harsh and quick, don't give people time to think or respond
  • An almost fanatical devotion to the State - You need to know and quote the State's manifesto to the letter
  • Fancy red uniforms are optional

I'm trying to say that monitoring isn't really necessary - maintaining constant control is the answer.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. Sounds awfully religious to me. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -on strike- Mar 1 '17 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ @chrylis - the irony is that totalitarian governments ultimately take on a religious tone of their own... in effect, the state itself becomes God. $\endgroup$ – Omegacron Mar 1 '17 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. $\endgroup$ – JiK Mar 2 '17 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. $\endgroup$ – IconDaemon Mar 2 '17 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ And then the State becomes the religion. Is it now banned? $\endgroup$ – pcnate Mar 3 '17 at 2:23

Still, I am going to add few cents in:

  • Propaganda basically, inspire self with Marxism, where one of main clause was "Religion is opium of the people"
  • Social persecution: You are not allowed to have "good" job as long as it is believed that you practice religion. Your kids are not allowed to attend higher level of education, if you practice religion.

Speaking of kids...

  • Turn kids against their parents Read story about Pavlik Morozov who turned his parents to the police and was praised by Soviet propaganda for doing so
  • Teach Scientific Atheism Make sure, that schools teach about religion as if it is something outdated, outlived, thing from the past. Read Marxist-Leninist atheism wiki article if interested more
  • $\begingroup$ There are many echoes of "1984" in your points. $\endgroup$ – Criggie Mar 1 '17 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Criggie: There are many echoes in 1984 of the real life in the former People's Republics / Socialist Republics / Soviet Republics... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 1 '17 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Ah the joys of the circle of Scientific Atheism! In my school this was organized by our history teacher, who clerverly used it to teach us the basics of Christian doctrine, under the perfectly acceptable justification that in order to combat religion we needed first to know what it was. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 1 '17 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP or, as I once heard it, "You can tell me to go to Hell, but you're going to know where it is first." :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Mar 1 '17 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ About Pavlik -- it's entirely possible that stories like that are totally fabricated. If you get someone to step up, you can write whatever you want about them, and wow, look, instant star! What a shame about his heart attack, though; he was a credit to the Union. If only he'd gotten to enjoy his fame longer. $\endgroup$ – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Mar 2 '17 at 14:04

A good reference could be what Stasi did in DDR, in particular with Zersetzung.

the methods of overt persecution that had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance

Infiltrate society with a capillar network of mutually unknown informants, so that nobody can say who is a safe contact.

Moreover avoid as much as possible to embody a well defined enemy, which is known to boost morale and sense of group.

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    $\begingroup$ As someone from former Eastern block, I was going to describe how religion was repressed during communist era. Seems you were quicker :) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 1 '17 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek, I am pretty sure you can give more details which are not covered in a Wikipedia page. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Mar 1 '17 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ Added my own answer summing up the propaganda I went through as kid. Ah, the childhood memories... :) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 1 '17 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ Looks like this was the most effective way of removing religion ever. East Germany is exceptionally irreligious now, with four states polling over 70% irreligious, while West Germany remains largely religious. Though it's not clear whether the negative/destructive tactics could have achieved that on their own, without cultural replacements for religion or other factors. $\endgroup$ – Vandroiy Mar 2 '17 at 11:13


Make it easy to snitch on your neighbour. Reward it.

Make it compulsory to snitch on your neighbour. If you knew about something and don't tell the government, then you are an accomplice!

The religious people themselves are a close knit group who will not tell on each other, but there are always others around who will notice things. And who will talk to the police about it.

A good propaganda campaign that paints religious people as dangerous deviants that will abduct your children and baptize them, makes people more likely to go to the police with their suspicions.

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    $\begingroup$ Even "better" than rewarding for snitches is punishing people for not snitching - make the penalty for not reporting the crime as bad as the crime itself. You can set a few examples by deliberately planting a few stooges to try and practice religion in front of others, and see if the others report them. Any who don't are punished publicly. $\endgroup$ – colmde Mar 2 '17 at 14:18

Generally speaking, religion means ritual, and the easiest way to discover religious people is through their artifacts and holy places. They might return to a sacred site for pilgrimages on a certain date, for example. Likewise, you can capture them by tracking their artifacts like crosses, books, menorahs, etc. These artifacts are generally forbidden and outlawed when a state tries to outlaw religion, so anyone in possession of such materials is a target.

In spite of the danger, religious people are loathe to abandon these artifacts of their culture. Likewise, certain practices can tip off the inquisition, like covering a mirror after a death in the household. Names are another 'artifact' of religion; many Jewish surnames were changed during the inquisition in Spain to dissociate with religious beliefs.


Somewhat high-tech answer: in order to practice most religions, people have to gather together. Use the location data from cellphones to detect unexpected gatherings. You could even forbid leaving home without your phone (but then conspiring citizens will ensure the battery is dead before leaving).

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    $\begingroup$ You should already be hunting any human who isn't radiating em. Your drone network notes 100 humans outside in a certain district. Your cell network notes 99 phones not in areas known to be inside. Increased scrutiny, the non-phoned human is located and interrogated. Your cell network probably can helpfully remind people when their batteries need charging too. As ID's get smarter and passive radios get better it may not need to be a cellphone soon. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Mar 1 '17 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ So make it the law to ensure your battery is always charged before leaving home... $\endgroup$ – colmde Mar 2 '17 at 14:18

If you want a real life example of this, look at the early Soviet Union. One example I can think of is that they forbade people from celebrating Christmas. So on Christmas eve, they had patrols going around looking through people's windows to make sure no one had a Christmas tree up.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the community, Alex. Can you explain a bit about their surveillance methods and how effective they were? It's helpful that you mentioned it, but your question is lacking vital detail :( Also, some links for people who want to read the matter in detail would be very helpful. Thanks for your contribution :) $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Mar 2 '17 at 20:55

Try some religious tests. There a couple you can do:

  • Have an annual ritual where your citizens burn all the holy books or other holy objects of common religions
  • For Abrahamic religions, have people work on Sabbath days
  • Have people execute believers
  • Have people denounce God (this one act should hit most religions)

People who are religious probably won't want to do these things, allowing you to identify them.


Try compulsory psychometric testing, possibly masquerading as assessment for jobs and promotion. Since religion is known to be illegal don't specifically ask about that but rather look for a religious frame of mind: fatalism, pre-destination, giving credibility to dreams and the like.

Once a suspect has been identified you will need interception of communications and covert surveillance. When a 'believer' has been located do not arrest at once. Religion is practised in groups so observing the believer should lead to a whole nest of them. Then placing the others under observation could lead to more.

Eventually the believer should be arrested and as part of the re-education persuaded to go undercover to root out more believers.

  • $\begingroup$ Something like "religious frame of mind" would be pretty broad. One religion says predestination is true, other requires believers to actively fight belief in predestination. And it's similar with interpreting dreams, etc. (There is also a still ongoing scientific dispute whether free will exists or not.) $\endgroup$ – user31389 Mar 2 '17 at 12:21

We have quite a few proven ways to violently turn the whole of society against some group:

  • make religious people appear as haters of humanity, who even if looking normal, could turn horribly violent without warning; and are therefore to be feared unconditionally. Example: we already have that when just speaking Arabic can get other passengers to call airport security. Extend that from Islam to all religions. After all, you can find acts of violence committed in the name of each.
  • equate religion with drugs: believers are "hooked" on the surreptitious gratification of their "delirious rituals". Make it just another probable attribute of the thug who scares you in a dark alley. After all, if they are persecuted, religious people probably are rejects of society; and many of them will actually end up in the street unwashed and in desperate need of your wallet...
  • accuse them of conspiring against the social order. Once religious people are forced to hide... who knows who might be secretly religious? Any national problem, from tragedies to annoyances, can be claimed to be caused by a secret cabal of religious people, who congregate in secret to act viciously and hatefully because that's how religion makes you (again, no lack of examples for your propaganda).

Once you do all this (don't worry if the accusations are inconsistent, people won't notice) ...you won't even need police investigations, or rewards for snitches (although do use those, for good measure). Anyone having the slightest suspicion will report it to the police simply because he believes he is protecting himself, his family and his community from a terrible evil.

Even religious people themselves, if they are efficiently cut off from their religious community by this continuous surveillance, and their lives are made suitably impossible by the continuous paranoia of being informed on by even the closest human connections, will eventually start doubting that the propaganda is right, and they have been part of an inhumane delusion all along; and finally almost certainly either go mad, commit suicide, resolve to "go straight", or even denounce themselves to the authorities. In which latter case, of course, you should send them to a harsh camp for a few years to "reform" them; then if they seem repentant enough, fully pardon them and parade them as public example that no religious delusion is hopeless, and that it is possible to recover sanity and become a "good citizen" again.

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    $\begingroup$ Apropos discrediting religious people in the eyes of the society: Security Service (SB) of communist Poland was known to plant compromising materials on priests and pilgrims: alcohol, porn, condoms, diaries implying they are gay, etc. They also published "religious" magazines which tried to divide priests on topics such as the Second Vatican Council. (Of course they also employed more traditional methods like kidnapping, torture and murder.) $\endgroup$ – user31389 Mar 6 '17 at 16:03

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