The Government Committee for Religious Affairs is putting the finishing touches to the draft Law on Belief and Religion before it is presented to the National Assembly for debate at its coming session. This article presents key contents of the fifth version of the draft Law, the latest version with 11 chapters and 68 articles.
The promulgation of the Law on Belief and Religion aims to institutionalize the Party’s viewpoints and concretize the Constitution’s provisions on guarantee of the right to freedom of belief and religion for all people, including foreigners, in the country. At the same time, it seeks to strengthen discipline and responsibility in belief and religious activities of religious organizations and competent state agencies.
1. In its general provisions, the draft Law establishes the scope of its regulation and applicable subjects, reaffirms the right to freedom of belief and religion, defines rights and obligations of believers and religious followers as well as religious organizations, and specifies forbidden acts in the area of belief and religion.
Such provisions have been gathered up from the 2004 Ordinance on Belief and Religion (the Ordinance) and implementing regulations, in addition to new contents such as responsibilities of organizations and individuals for the exercise of the right to freedom of belief and religion; responsibilities of state agencies for the respect and protection of the right to freedom of belief and religion of everyone. This provision is intended to recognize and concretize entities of the right to freedom of belief and religion being “everyone” under the 2013 Constitution rather than “citizens” as stated in the 1992 Constitution. The draft clearly states everyone’s right to follow any religion or to follow no religion and that no one is allowed to violate the freedom of belief and religion. All acts of compelling other people to follow or relinquish a religion or taking advantage of the right to freedom of belief and religion to harm the State, citizens and religious organizations are prohibited, the draft stresses.
The draft lists several limitations on the right to freedom of belief and religion, saying that such right is limited in cases of necessity for the reasons of national defense, national security, public order, social ethics, and community well-being. These provisions are necessary for the State to implement its responsibility to respect and guarantee the right to freedom of belief and religion in the general context of security, social order and safety as well as protect fundamental rights and freedoms of others. These provisions are in line with Clause 2, Article 14 of the 2013 Constitution, and Clause 3, Article 18 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which states: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health and morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”.
2. The draft provisions regulate belief activities and festivals; representatives or management boards of belief establishments; registration of annual belief activities; belief activities at belief establishments; and organization of belief festivals. These provisions are designed to guarantee people’s right to freedom of belief and guide belief establishments to elect and appoint their representatives and management boards and register their belief activities for management and maintenance of their operation. These provisions are taken from the Ordinance and its implementing regulations with amendments suiting the reality of the community’s belief activities.
3. The draft Law contains specific provisions on conditions for registration of religious operation and competence to grant religious operation registration certificates, operation of organizations after obtaining religious operation registration certificates, and revocation of such certificates for commission of prohibitions specified in this draft legislation. Such provisions will help not only organizations and individuals who have demands for belief and religion and satisfy the required conditions to implement conveniently but also serve as grounds for state agencies to properly perform their functions and tasks.
Under Government Decree No. 92 dated November 8, 2012, detailing the Ordinance on Belief and Religion, the registration of religious activities is the starting point to count the time for an organization eligible for registration of religious activities and recognition. Meanwhile, the draft Law says that the registration of religious activities only satisfies individuals’ religious needs and is not considered a landmark for the registration or recognition of organizations. Particularly, the draft Law imposes as a new rule the penalty of revocation of religious operation registration certificates on religious organizations that operate against their guidelines and objectives or commit prohibited acts specified in the draft Law.
4. The draft makes provisions on conditions and competence to recognize religious organizations; conditions and competence to approve the establishment, division, separation, merger and consolidation of religious organizations; conditions and competence to approve the establishment of religious organizations, religious training institutions’ operation notice and enrolment, and foreigners studying at these institutions in Vietnam. In addition, the draft law introduces operation suspension and dissolution measures to be applied to religious organizations and religious training institutions that violate prohibitions specified in the draft Law.
Contents on conditions for recognition of religious organizations and the establishment, division, separation, merger and consolidation of attached religious organizations are basically similar to those in the Ordinance. Changes introduced in the draft Law focus on the conditions for establishment of religious training institutions, the competence to recognize religious organizations and approve the establishment of religious training institutions, training institutions’ operation notice and competent state agencies’ responsibilities for training institutions.
5. Following suit the Ordinance, the draft has reasonable provisions on religious organizations’ activities such as conferences and congresses (decentralization of the approving authority depending on the operation scale of religious organizations); ordainment, bestowal, appointment, election, selection, removal from office and dismissal in religious organizations. The draft Law has specified for the first time the ordainment, bestowal, appointment, election, selection of persons bearing foreign citizenship in religious organizations in Vietnam. The draft Law also deals with the transfer of religious dignitaries and monks to other places of operation; preaching and suspension of religious activities of religious dignitaries, deacons and monks; registration of persons who want to lead a religious life at religious establishments and registration of annual religious activities of religious organizations; and publications on beliefs and religions.
6. International relations of religious organizations, religious dignitaries, deacons, monks and believers are provided for the first time in the draft Law. The draft affirms the rights to conduct religion-related international activities, to invite foreign organizations or individuals to Vietnam for religious activities and religion-related international activities, to take part in religious activities and training overseas and to join international religious organizations. However, before exercising these rights, religious organizations and individuals must get competent state agencies’ approval and uphold the rights and obligations of Vietnamese citizens.
7. The draft Law sets forth policies reflecting the State’s advocacy and guarantee for religious activities for the sake of public, community and national interests. These policies include the protection of religious organizations’ lawful properties; land administration and use for belief and religious purposes, building of belief and religious works and the participation in health, education, training, social security, humanitarian, charitable and social relief activities in accordance with specialized laws and relevant laws.
8. The draft legislation adds provisions on the protection of the right to freedom of belief and religion of foreigners living and working in Vietnam. Under these provisions, the right to freedom of belief and religion is the right of every individual and foreigner living and working in Vietnam, which is respected and protected by the Vietnamese State. These foreigners will be assured of the rights to religious activities in religious establishments or other lawful places; to conduct rituals and preaching in religious establishments in Vietnam or other lawful places; and to study at religious professional schools; and to lead a religious life at religious establishments in Vietnam. Foreign religious dignitaries and monks may also carry out religious activities in the country.
9. The draft Law not only prohibits acts of abuse of the right to freedom of belief and religion but also says that any issues related to the state management of religious organizations’ operation must be prescribed by law. The freedom of belief and religion is one of fundamental human freedoms that relates to and has direct impacts on people’s spiritual life. Under these provisions, the exercise of the right to freedom of belief and religion must comply with the law in order to uphold the fine national traditions and culture and ensure active contributions by religious organizations to the national stability and oppose all religious abuse plots that attempt to divide the nation and undermine the revolutionary cause of the Vietnamese Party and people.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of belief and religion, and has the right to follow any religion or to follow no religion. All religions are equal before law.
The State shall respect and protect the freedom of belief and religion.
No one may violate the freedom of belief and religion, nor may anyone take advantage of a belief or religion in order to violate the law.
(Article 24 of Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution)
Director of Legislation and Inspection Department under the Government Committee for Religious Affairs Nguyễn Khắc Huy