The Party, since taking up the leadership of the revolution in Vietnam, has followed a consistent policy on ensuring the freedom of belief and religion, strengthening the national solidarity bloc and uniting followers of all religions as well as secular people in the national construction and safeguarding process.
In his recent article, Dr Vu Chien Thang, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, has underlined Vietnam’s viewpoint and policy on belief and religion and their implementation in reality. The following is part of his writing.
From viewpoints, policies …
Only one day after the declaration on the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), at the first meeting of the Government on September 3, 1945, President Ho Chi Minh pointed out the principled viewpoint of Vietnam’s religious policy – “I’d like to request that the Government declare freedom of belief and solidarity of secular and religious people.”
Institutionalising that viewpoint, on June 14, 1955, the President signed Decree No 234/SL, comprising five chapters with 16 articles, which was the first legal document to stipulate the Governmen’s responsibility for guaranteeing people’s right to religious freedom, along with religious dignitaries and followers’ responsibility and obligations related to religious activities in Vietnam.
President Ho Chi Minh’s viewpoint has been reflected in the Constitution by the Party and State, from the first version in 1946 to the latest one that was amended in 2013.
A ceremony in celebration of the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha in the 2567th Buddhist year in 2023 (Photo: VNA)
The Party has affirmed that practicing religion is the spiritual demand of a part of the people, and that solidarity of religions and national harmonisation are important to the building of a law-governed state of Vietnam.
In each period of national development, especially since 1990, the Party has issued many directives, resolutions to ensure people’s right to freedom of belief and religion.
The Party Central Committee’s Resolution No 25/NQ/TW on religious affairs in the new context stated: “The goal of rich people, strong nation, and an equal, democratic and civilised society is the common point that unites followers of all religions with the common cause. All citizens, regardless of their beliefs and religions, have the right and obligation to build and safeguard the Fatherland.”
Over the last 20 years, the State has issued more than 30 legal documents on belief and religious activities and revised legal rules on people’s right to freedom of belief and religion, including Ordinance 21/2004/PL-UBTVQH11 on belief and religious activities, Decree 22/2005/ND-CP guiding the enforcement of some articles of the ordinance on belief and religion, and Directive 1940/CT-TTg on religion-related housing and land.
In the 2013 Constitution, Article 24 regulates: (1) All people have the right to freedom of belief and religion, and have the right to follow or not follow any religion. All religions are equal before the law. (2) The State shall respect and protect the right to freedom of belief and religion. (3) No one may violate the freedom of belief and religion, nor may anyone take advantage of belief or religion in order to violate the law.
With the ultimate goal of bringing into play people’s right to mastery and meet the legitimate belief and religious demand of all people, the 14th-tenure National Assembly promulgated the Law on Belief and Religion while the Government released Decree No 162/2017/ND-CP detailing some articles and measures for enforcing this law.
In the documents of the 13th National Party Congress, the Party affirmed the importance of strengthening the solidarity and encouraging religious organisations, dignitaries, and followers to lead a good secular and religious life and actively contribute to national development and safeguarding. It also underlined the ensuring of conditions for religious organisations to operate in line with the law and their charters and statutes recognised by the State.
A follower practices the bathing of the Buddha statue. (Photo: VNA)
… To reality
Over the last nearly 20 years, the numbers of dignitaries and places of worship of religions have increased considerably, reflecting people’s legitimate belief and religious demand and affirming the Party and State’s consistent policy on guaranteeing all people’s right to freedom of belief and religion.
Statistics show that in 2003, there were six religions with 15 organisations, 17 million followers, about 20,000 places of worship, 34,000 dignitaries, and 78,000 leading officers in the country. As of 2022, Vietnam had recognised 43 organisations of 16 religions, with about 27 million followers, over 53,000 dignitaries, 135,000 leading officers, and more than 29,000 places of worship.
More than 8,000 festivals linked with belief and religion take place each year, attracting the participation of tens of thousands of followers.
During 10 years implementing the policies and law on belief and religion, competent state agencies have granted hundreds of hectares of land for building places of worship. In 2022 alone, all-level authorities licensed the building, repair, and upgrade of 152 places of religious worship. Meanwhile, 183 places and groups were licensed to carry out collective religious activities, and more than 3,850 persons elected or appointed to act as religious dignitaries and leading officers.
Those figures are a vivid demonstration of the fact that ensuring the right to freedom of belief and religion is a consistent principle of the Party and State of Vietnam.
From 2018 to 2020, the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs held 148 conferences to disseminate the Law on Belief and Religion and Decree No 162/ND-CP to cadres in the political system with 26,278 participants, along with 132 other meetings for 27,793 religious dignitaries, officers, and professionals. It also coordinated with ministries and central agencies to step up communications about religious affairs.
Accompanying the nation is the orientation for activities of all religions, which also matches the traditional culture of Vietnam.
Over the past years, religious organisations in Vietnam have engaged in exchanges with international ones as seen in their attendance in conferences, workshops, and regional and international forums, as well as organisation of religious meetings and forums within the framework of the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and international mechanisms, helping strengthen the country’s status in the international arena and promote people-to-people exchange.
Dignitaries, monks, and followers attend a celebration of Lord Buddha's birth anniversary in Ho Chi Minh City in 2023. (Photo: VNA)
At bilateral and multilateral forums, religious organisations of Vietnam have clearly shown the love for peace and patriotism while actively contributing opinions to joint statements to help build a peaceful world and reduce conflicts, violence, and war triggered by religious and racial causes. They have called on their religious peers around the world to support Vietnam’s development and also affirmed the tradition of solidarity and patriotism of religious followers.
Many of their activities have helped introduce images of the country’s people, history, and culture to international friends, including the Evangelical Church of Vietnam’s ceremony marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, and the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha’s hosting of celebrations of the UN Day of Vesak drawing 570 international delegations with 1,650 delegates from 112 countries and territories.
Such activities have reflected the Vietnamese State’s consistent policy of respecting and ensuring the right to freedom of belief and religion, reinforced solidarity among belief and religious followers both at home and abroad to contribute to national development and defence, and refuted distortions of the country’s viewpoints and policies on religion.
In addition, religious organisations have also played an important role in implementing the Party and State’s policies and laws. Via religious activities, dignitaries have guided followers in poverty reduction, thus helping improve people’s material and spiritual life, promote patriotism and the self-reliance spirit, and encourage followers to join hands with the Party and State in national development.
Since 2004, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha Executive Council has coordinated with the Vietnam Fatherland Front to include anti-HIV/AIDS activities in its working programmes. In 2015, leaders of 40 organisations of 14 religions in the country, the Front Central Committee’s Standing Board, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment signed a coordination programme on environmental protection and climate change response for 2015 - 2020.
Followers attend a Christmas celebration at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Hai Phong. (Photo: VNA)
However, there remain many latent problems in religious affairs. Notably, external hostile forces still plot to take advantage of those affairs to cause disorder, and collude with some extremists to distort the Party and State’s viewpoints, policies, and laws on belief and religion.
Therefore, at a meeting with US Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Evans Knapper on April 14, 2023, leaders of the Ministry of Home Affairs asked the diplomat to have an overarching view of the policies and reality of religious activities in Vietnam.
They underlined that Vietnam’s consistent viewpoint is to respect and guarantee the right to religious freedom of all people, and even the ones with citizenship stripped still have the right to express their religious belief, and that the State resolutely handles the individuals or organisations that discriminate or hamper others from following or not following religion, or insult belief and religion.
Achievements in the implementation of the Party and State’s policies and laws, as well as the reality of belief and religious practices in Vietnam have consolidated religious dignitaries and followers’ trust in the Party and State, enhanced the great national solidarity, and promoted democracy at the grassroots level, thereby helping bring into play synergy for national development and safeguarding in the new context./.