China Claims New Religious Rules Will End Discrimination
July 7, 2008
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - China's communist government, criticized in the West for severe violations of religious freedom, has announced new religious regulations it says will end discrimination.
The "religious affairs provisions," set to come into effect next March, were discussed and drafted over a six-year period, during which legal, human rights and religious experts were consulted, the state-run China Daily said Monday.
Under the new regulations, it said, the state would protect "normal" religious activities. Neither "normal" nor the alternatively used word, "legitimate," was defined.
It would also "safeguard the lawful rights and interests of religious bodies, sites for religious activities and citizens who believe in religion, and no one may infringe upon such freedoms and rights."
The party paper also said, without elaborating, that the new provisions had been designed to deal with new issues that had emerged in recent years with China's rapid socio-economic development.
It was not immediately clear how the new regulations would affect the situation.
Legal action would be taken against "anyone who compels citizens to believe in, or not believe in, any religions or who interferes with the normal religious activities of a religious body or site for religious activities."
Religious groups and locations will still apparently have to register with the state.
"Based on China's actual conditions and abundant experience from long-term practice, these regulations further standardize the registration system for the establishment of a religious body or site for religious activities," the China Daily said.
"Religious bodies, activities and believers should abide by the constitution, laws and regulations to safeguard national unity, racial harmony and social stability."
It also appears that state involvement will continue, albeit with some consultation.
"The regulations provide that people's governments at various levels shall solicit the views of religious bodies, sites for religious activities and religious citizens, and co-ordinate the administration of religious affairs."
Critics ranging from human rights groups to political campaigners to Western governments say Beijing harshly represses religious groups that operate outside the state-sanctioned sector.
Victims include Catholics loyal to the Vatican, evangelical Protestants, adherents of the Falun Gong meditation sect -- defined as an "evil cult" -- Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs in the western Xinjiang region.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), all religious activity in China has to take place within one of five official bodies falling under the government's Religious Affairs Bureau.
They are the Patriotic Catholic Association, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the Chinese Buddhist Association, the Chinese Islamic Association and the Chinese Daoist Association.
"All unregistered religious activity is held to be illegal," said CSW. "The registration policy has been particularly rigorously implemented over the last few years, making it the main vehicle for state control and oppression of religious activities. This has resulted in severe violations of religious freedom and other core human rights."
The Roman Catholic Church has been banned in China since Beijing cut ties with the Vatican in the 1950s. The communist government then established an official "patriotic" denomination, which is called Catholic but is not loyal to, or recognized by, the Pope.
Campaigners say many priests have been jailed for refusing to renounce the authority of the Pope, but that despite the persecution, millions of Catholics continue to worship in secret.
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