11/27/2013, 00.00
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Priests in Bac Ninh come out against bill that restricts religious freedom

Worship is "a right, not a favour," priests say in a statement issued in response to a proposed provincial law imposing new constraints and obstacles on religious life. The new rules are "useless nonsense, requiring religions to seek permits and authorisations". Religious freedom is an essential condition for "harmonious development".

Hanoi (AsiaNews/EDA) - Religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution and existing regulations, "is a right and not a favour". The draft law not only has "too many unnecessary details" but creates "many obstacles and limitations," said a group of priests from the Diocese of Bac Ninh in a statement criticising the proposed new rules. The diocese is located in northern Vietnam, and borders the capital.

Called 'Provisions relating to a number of specific points on the management of religious activities in the territory of Bac Ninh,' the new rules de facto limit the religious rights of the clergy and the community of the faithful.

The Diocese of Bac Ninh includes five northern provinces plus parts of other provinces. It is home to 120,000 Catholics who represent 1.54 per cent of the population. The bishop is Mgr Cosma Hoang Van Dat, who is also general secretary of the Bishops' Conference of Vietnam.

Recently, Bac Ninh provincial authorities drafted rules to enforce a state law on religion. After looking at, the priests reacted with disappointment because they contain "useless nonsense, requiring religions to seek permits and authorisations for every circumstance."

In their statement, the priests note that detailed and precise rules governing religious activity already exist at the national level.

These recently introduced rules were met with a negative reaction from the leaders of the country's main religions because they include heavy constraints and limitations on the right to worship.

"Instead of exercising legitimate rights, religious organisations and their representatives are forced to ask for them whenever they organise religious services, train clergy, ordain priests and build (or repair) religious buildings," the statement said.

Hence, whilst Vietnamese society is pushing for greater democracy and freedoms, the draft proposal represents a "step backward," the Bac Ninh priests said, for it gives the authorities the right to sanction any initiative in matters of faith and religion.

 "Such a regime turns citizens' right to freedom into a power entrusted into the hands of the State," they explain. The latter should instead protect "the rights of religious organisations."

"We want the project to be a piece of legislation that leads to real progress that really contributes to the welfare of the population" the priests said. "Isn't the right to practice one's religion freely and lead your own spiritual life, the greater good? Only when this happens will society achieve a safe and harmonious development."

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