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Thursday, July 29, 2021, 07:52 (GMT+7)
Absolute freedom of religion – an unreasonable claim

Human rights in general, and the right to "religious freedom" in particular, are natural, inherent and objective rights of people recognised and protected by national and international laws. However, taking advantage of the right to religious freedom to ask for an "absolute freedom of religion" (religion beyond law) for any purpose is impractical and unacceptable.

According to legal documents of the United Nations, although it is a basic human right, the right to freedom of belief and religion is not an absolute but a relative and limited right. This is clearly stated in Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that: “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”; Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966): “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, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”. Thus, the notion of "absolute freedom of religion" is a deliberate disregard for the core contents of international law in order to interfere and undermine national laws on religion and beliefs of hostile and reactionary forces.

The reason why they demand for an "absolute freedom of religion" is because they try to resort to the so-called "natural human rights theory" about the absolute, eternal, and unlimited freedom that “no subject, including the state, can grant or deprive people of their innate and inherent rights”. This is very illogical as in society, without state management, basic human rights and freedoms cannot be exercised, which inevitably leads to political instability, social disorder and unsafety, badly affecting the rights and interests of the people. Besides a few absolute rights, such as the right to life, the majority of rights are relative ones, exercising those rights must be conditional and subject to social restrictions. This is more evident given the fact that each religious follower is, at the same time, a citizen. They are entitled to their rights, but must perform their civic duties and comply with state laws. Thus, in any country in this world, the right to freedom of religion must be placed in the framework of law. There can be no such freedom of anarchy, freedom without principles. In Vietnam, Article 15 of the 2013 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam clearly states: “Civil rights are inseparable from civil obligations”.

Practically, in the world, developed countries all define that freedom of belief and religion must be placed in the relationship with the state and the law. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany stipulates that freedom of religion and belief is guaranteed, but the activities of a religious organisation may be restricted or prohibited if the purposes and activities of that organisation violate the provisions of the Penal Code or against the social regime specified in the Constitution. In Austria, Article 28 of the Law on Institutions states that a religious organisation may be dissolved if it violates the provisions of the Criminal Law. In the United States, although the Constitution of this country imposes no limit on religion, it does specify: state agencies directly supervise the activities of religious organisations in the area. Only after the approval of the government, religious organisations are allowed to operate and have legal status, etc. This shows that countries have set limits on religious freedom in order to ensure order and common interests of society and the people. Thus, the right to freedom of belief and religion in international law as well as national law is not an absolute right. The advocacy of "absolute freedom of religion" goes against not only the constitutions and laws of countries, but also international law on freedom of belief and religion.

On the other hand, “freedom of religion” and “freedom of religious expression” are two different issues, each with a distinct connotation. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) stipulates that “religious freedom” means that everyone has the absolute right to freedom to choose his or her religion, but the 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, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. However, with their political calculations, hostile forces try to distort, unify and swap these two concepts in order to affirm that freedom of religious expression is absolute. On the other hand, the terms "religious freedom" and "freedom of religious expression" are different in nature, but have a relative overlap in linguistic term, so they have become political tools for some countries to claim for themselves "the right" to judge another country's achievements in guaranteeing religious freedom for  their political purposes.

Vietnam law and Constitution both affirm the consistent policy of the Party and State of Vietnam that: always respect and guarantee the people's right to freedom of belief and religion; all religions are equal to law. This if further affirmed by our Party that: “Create conditions for religious organisations to operate in accordance with the provisions of the law; proactively help and satisfy the needs for religious, belief and spiritual activities of the masses”. Article 24 of the 2013 Constitution stipulates that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of belief and religion, follow or not follow a religion. All religions are equal before law". Article 3, Law on Belief and Religion 2016 stipulates: “The State respects and protects people's right to freedom of belief and religion; ensures that all religions are equal before law”. Although Vietnam's laws are fully compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), hostile forces and political opportunists still deliberately create excuses and misinterpret that the legal system enacted by Vietnam is aimed at restricting people's "freedom of belief and religion", and demand for the "absolute freedom of religion". This is a very ridiculous distortion in their strategy of "Peaceful evolution".

In fact, in Vietnam, there are many religious activities coloured by superstition, which are contrary to traditional culture, hence not allowed by law. Some notable case law can be named as: the case of Rah Lan Hip (living in Ia Bang, Chu Prong, Gia Lai) who was sentenced to 7 years in prison by the People's Court of Gia Lai province for holding the "Dega Protestant" meeting, propagandising and maintaining Fulro activities to establish the so-called Dega State of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, violating Clause 1, Article 116 of the Criminal Code (2015) "undermining the great unity policy"; some priests, namely: Nguyen Dinh Thuc, Dang Huu Nam, Nguyen Duy Tan, etc. are restricted from traveling because they have many activities that are not purely religious. They took advantage of the pulpit to talk against the government and posted many statements on social networks distorting Vietnam history, and violating Article 5 of the Law on Beliefs and Religions which “stipulating prohibition against activities in belief and religion  infringing upon national defence, security, national sovereignty, social order and safety, causing ethnic and religious division”; recently, some priests in the parishes of Ha Loi (Phong Nha, Bo Trach, Quang Binh), Xuan Hoa (Quang Xuan, Quang Trach, Quang Binh), Du Thanh (Ky Khang, Ky Anh, Ha Tinh), the Renaissance Missionary Church (Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh City) violated the directive of the Prime Minister, the regulations of the Ministry of Health and localities on the prevention and control of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their actions have "abused" the freedom to express religion, violated the rule of law principle, causing serious consequences. Therefore, the slanderous allegations are just tricks to take advantage of the freedom of belief and religion to oppose the State of Vietnam.

History has proven that: under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, religions exist in harmony and practice "good life, good religion" operations; religious followers and dignitaries believe in the guidelines of the Party, policies and laws of the State, promote the patriotic tradition, accompany the nation, and make a great contribution to the cause of national construction and defence. As of December 31, 2020, Vietnam has 43 organisations belonging to 16 religions recognised by the State and granted permission for operation; nearly 30,000 worshiping establishments, 53 training establishments; people following unrecognised religions are guaranteed by the local governments to practice at home or registered locations according to the provisions of the Law on Beliefs and Religions, including foreign religious groups. Many provinces and cities hand over land to religious organisations to build worship facilities and training institutions, such as: Ho Chi Minh City allocated 7,500 m2 to the Vietnam General Confederation of Evangelical Churches to build the Institute of Holy Spirit; Thua Thien Hue province assigned 20 hectares of land to the Buddhist Academy; Da Nang City assigned 6,000 m2 to the Christian Mission; Hanoi allocated 11 hectares of land to the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam to build a Buddhist Academy, etc. Every year, hundreds of delegations of domestic religious missions participate in religious activities abroad, while many foreign dignitaries enter Vietnam for religious activities. Many international religious activities have been successfully held in Vietnam, including: the Capitulum Generale OP. 2019 by the Dominicans; the 100th Anniversary of Protestantism in Vietnam; the United Nations Day of Vesak in 2019 by the Buddhism with the participation of more than 3,000 monks, nuns, and Buddhists at home and abroad which was highly appreciated by international public opinion, etc. In particular, Vietnam was elected as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2014-2016 term with the highest number of votes and successfully defended the sessions of the Universal Periodic Review, cycle II. Currently, ASEAN countries have agreed to recommend Vietnam to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2023 – 2025 term. The above fact is Vietnam's strongest affirmation in the protection of human rights, including the right to freedom of belief and religion. At the same time it affirms that: there is no such absolute freedom of religion as the unreasonable claim of some people.

LE PHONG

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