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Constitution versus religious regulations

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): China is poised to promulgate a new set of Regulations on Religious Activities on October 7, which seek to control every facet of the lives of religious communities from personnel to places of worship, and from statues to buildings.

The regulations also make specific reference to terrorist activities and separatist movements, with the big demand being that there are to be no ties with foreign countries, as all religions in China must be fully independent.

A priest from northeastern China, who identified himself as Father Chen, quoted an old Chinese proverb, “To call a horse a deer” (call something what it is not), in describing the new regulations.

The proverb dates back to a prime minister during the reign of the second emperor of the Qin dynasty (221 to 207BC), Zhao Gao, who called a horse a deer in order to prove his power over his ministers. They repeated what he said and did not dare discuss the contradiction.

As with the first set of regulations that were promulgated in 2005, the authorities insist that their purpose is to protect religious freedom, although members of religious groups believe otherwise.

“The constitution states that all citizens enjoy the right to religious freedom, so the regulations should not appear as being a way to restrict the religious freedom of the people,” Father Chen said.

A priest from central China commented, “The regulations on religious activities are government control on religions. The way these regulations have been revised, shows that they are there to control religions. It is just old wine in new wineskins, a simple cliché.”

There is a yawning gap between the proclamation of religious freedom in the constitution and the contents of the new regulations. 

While in reality, there is no separation between Church and state, the constitution proclaims separation, because religious belief is regarded as a personal matter.

“Regulations of the activities of religious groups should be based on the constitution and the criminal code and the law,” Vincent, from Guangzhou, said.

He added that requirements, like forcing priests to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a group that has nothing to do with religion and is actually incompatible with faith, should not be allowed.

A lawyer, Li Guisheng, told Radio Free Asia, “The government, the State Council, in theory does not have the power to restrict the constitutional rights of citizens.”

Consequently, he argues that it would be better not to use regulations as a control mechanism, but create a law governing religious freedom.

“But,” Li pointed out in conclusion, “the State Council is part of the executive and it is not able to make laws on its own authority. Only the National People’s Congress can do so when it is in plenary session.”

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