A Religious Affairs Unit for Hong Kong? The diocese protests, and candidate Carrie Lam withdraws suggestion
The proposal was contained in the electoral program of Catholic candidate for Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. Fears of Catholics and Protestants for a possible control over religions. Card. Tong’s message for Carrie Lam. The diocese: China government is atheistic; in Hong Kong there are free channels of communication between religion and government. John Tsang, a Catholic, also a candidate for chief executive: does not support such an office.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong has voiced out“resolute opposition”against chief executive candidate (see photo) Mrs Carrie Lam's suggestion of studying the possibility of setting up a“religious affairs unit”to coordinate religious policies in Hong Kong.
Lam's suggestion was mentioned in her election platform, which has aroused oppositions and worries from Protestant and Catholic groups in Hong Kong, who see it akin to measures to control religions already in place in China.
The Catholic diocese issued a public statement on March 3, urging Lam, also a Catholic, to remove those points from her election platform because that idea will“definitely cause local Christians to have worries about the freedom of religion in Hong Kong", noting the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of religious belief in Hong Kong.
Cardinal John Tong, bishop of Hong Kong, wrote to Lam on March 2, expressing the diocese's “resolute opposition of a possible setting up of a ‘religious affairs unit’”or similar institutions in Hong Kong.
In a response to Cardinal Tong’s concern, Lam said she“regretted”the idea had“created misconceptions and misunderstandings”. “To avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings in society and among religious bodies in particular”, she indicated that “she would not examine such idea within government”if she got elected the chief executive.
The Catholic Diocese's statement said that local government officials have“sufficient channels to contact religions directly, without any need to have such a 'religious affairs unit’or department for contacts.”
The suggestion of setting up a“religious affairs unit”can easily give people an impression that the local Government is“directing and controlling religions”and will“create unnecessary confusion and conflicts in society”, it continued.
The statement mentioned an instance of Basic Law Drafting Committee in April 1986, where a suggestion of including “religious policy” into the Draft Basic Law was not accepted after strong opposition from drafters of the religious sector from Hong Kong.
The statement also pointed out the mainland is led by an atheist and communist government, whose officials may involve “religious affairs” units or departments to grasp the situations of religious organizations, but there is no need of having such unit or department in Hong Kong as communication channels between the local government and religions are sufficient.
Another chief executive candidate John Tsang, a Catholic, said he did not agree to the idea of setting up a “religious affairs unit” in Hong Kong to coordinate religious matters as each religion has its own tradition and viewpoints.