Set to go into effect January 1, 2018, Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion raises doubts and concerns among the nation’s Catholics and others, and they are speaking out to apply pressure to stop the law.
In June, while the Vietnamese Parliament was convened in Hanoi for the third plenary session of the National Assembly, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam spoke out against the proposed law that was ratified by Parliament in November 2016: “The government’s Law on Belief and Religion has some innovative and positive points. However, there are many aspects that worry us and alarm us.”
They are concerned over ambiguities and contradictions in the law that fuel the “system of asking and granting” through which the government can “approve or disapprove of religious organizations.” This opens the door to interference in the internal affairs of religious communities and establishes tight controls over their activities. It also fails to recognize the importance of “pastoral activities in the fields of charity, health and education,” the bishops charge.
In response to the government’s call to work for the country’s growth, the bishops responded:
“The government has invited religions to accompany the nation. We all agree to this, but we think that the concept of nation must be clearly distinguished from that of regime.”
“The history of the Vietnamese people in particular and the history of the world in general show that political regimes change over time, but the nation lasts forever. Religions inspire noble spiritual values in the human heart. This way, religion helps to promote the cultural traditions of the nation, engaging actively in building a just, democratic and civil society.”
“When there is a proper view of religion, this will be the premise for true respect for the religious freedom of the people. We hope that our honest and direct comments, due to our historical responsibility and our love of homeland, will be heard by the Assembly.”
“With respect to the guidelines to apply the law, we hope that the government of Vietnam will follow new paths, creating conditions for religions to participate more actively in the building and development of the country. This is for the prosperity, democracy and happiness of Vietnam.”
Seven percent of Vietnam’s 93 million people are Catholic.