12/02/2015, 00.00
VIETNAM

For Vietnamese religious leaders, new law is "a step backward” in terms of religious freedom

Ngoc Thanh
​A proposed law on religious practices continues to fuel controversy. For the government, it "enshrines" the right to religious freedom. For its critics, the bill does not entail any rights. In fact, it enshrines government control over religion. For Vietnamese cardinal, the authorities’ openness is phoney.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Vietnam’s government and the leaders of the country’s main religious groups continue to spar over a proposed law on religions and faiths, which Vietnam’s legislature should approve by the end of this year or early next year.

The draft bill has met with strong opposition from Caodaists and Catholics. Mgr Micae (Michael) Hoang Duc Qanh, bishop of Kontum, has come out strongly against it. In a letter to the National Assembly, the prelate described the proposed legislation as a blatant "violation of the right to religious freedom."

Vietnam’s National Assembly discussed the Belief and Religion Law at its last meeting on 20 November. For the government, the law "enshrines" the right to practice religion, a right inherent in human beings even if it is not inherent in citizens.

Catholic leaders and the representatives of other faiths have reacted negatively to the proposal, expressing their strong opposition.

Critics say the law is full of constraints on, for example, registering places of worship, staff, activities, postings, programmes (which one-year prior approval), making any faith-based activity impossible.

Thang Nguyen Dinh, a Vietnamese-American who heads a group called ‘Vietnamese Boat People’, notes that religious leaders are strongly opposed to the bill because it is "a step backwards in terms of rights and freedoms."

The Inter-faith Council of Vietnam, which represents the country’s five main religious denominations, is also clear on the matter. Individual “rights and freedoms are not included in the draft law on religions."

For their part, the authorities disagree, claiming that the bill protects individual religious rights and freedoms. "The law on religions is progressive,” said Tan Duong Ngoc, number two in the government committee on religion, “because it recognises religious organisations, and grants them broad freedom.”

For historian and draft co-author Hung Quang Do, the law "broadens the areas of freedom", allows “prisoners to worship” in their cell, and gives various religions "legal status" by limiting state intervention.

However, doubts remain. For researcher Tran Thi Lien, "the Communist Party of Vietnam still rules, and this law reflects its desire to limit the impact of religion on society. That is why the Communist government has always sought to dominate the clergy and religions."

Similarly, Card Phêrô (Peter) Nguyen Van Nhon, archbishop of Hanoi and representative of the Vietnamese Bishops' Conference, recently told French daily Le Monde, "On the one hand, the Vietnamese government has expressed openness toward religion, but on the other, they have proposed a rule that is a clear step backward from the progress made in the past."

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