Monday, January 29, 2018, 20:28 (GMT+7)
Correct interpretation of freedom of belief and religion

Religion is considered one of the matters widely employed by hostile forces to disrupt, sabotage, and destabilize sociopolitical situation; divide national great unity block; and go against our Party and socialist regime. Therefore, correct interpretation of freedom of belief and religion lays a firm foundation for identifying and foiling those artifices and stratagems.

Freedom of belief and religion is one of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the UN’s significant political documents. According to Clause 3, Article 1 of the 1945 UN Charter, “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”. Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”. Also, Article 2 of this document stipulates “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Yet, the right to freedom of belief and religion is not the absolute right, but the limited one as stated in Clause 2, Article 29 “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”. Pursuant to Clauses 1, 2, and 3 of Article 18, and Clause 2, Article 20 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights respectively “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”; “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”; “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.” and “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law. In a nutshell, those documents clearly separate rights to freedom of religion from freedom of practising a religion; 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. The right to adopt a religion of his choice is absolute while the right to practise a religion is not absolute.

Vietnam is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation. Over the course of national leadership process, our Party and President Ho Chi Minh have always pursued a consistent policy of respecting and protecting the fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of belief and religion. Immediately following the birth of the nation, President Ho Chi Minh signed a Decree No.234/SL, dated 14-6-1955, stating that “Freedom of belief and worship is people’s legitimate rights and interests which are always respected and supported by the Government. Besides, the Government does not interfere in religious internal affairs. Like other organizations of the people, religious organizations must obey the State laws. It is compulsory to strictly punish those who capitalize on religious issues to disrupt for the sake of protecting freedom of belief”. Inheriting and developing President Ho Chi Minh’s directive viewpoints, our Party and State have constantly perfected relevant policies and laws as a basis for people to exercise the right to freedom of belief and religion. The Resolution No.25-NQ/TW by the Party Central Committee (9th tenure) emphasized 1. Consistently implementing the policy of respecting and ensuring the right to freedom of belief, following any religions or following none, and the right to lawfully practising a religion. The activities of religions are within the framework of the law, and equal before the law. 2. Discriminating on the grounds of belief and religion is strictly prohibited. Also, capitalizing on belief and religion to practise superstitions, go against the State’s laws and policies, and incite and divide people and other ethnic groups; disrupt and violate national security is stringently banned. Grounded in institutionalized international laws and Party line on the right to freedom of belief and religion, Vietnamese Constitution 2013 affirmed “Everyone shall enjoy freedom of belief and religion; he or she can follow any religion or follow none. All religions are equal before the law. The State respects and protects freedom of belief and of religion” (Article 24); “Human rights and citizens’ rights shall only be restricted when prescribed by law in imperative circumstances for the reasons of national defence, national security, social order and security, social morality and community well-being (Clause 2, Article 14); infringing on the freedom of belief and religion or to take advantage of belief and religion to violate the laws is strictly prohibited. According to Law on Belief and Religion in force since 01-01-2018 “It is prohibited to discriminate on the grounds of belief and religion; coercing, bribing and preventing others from adopting a religion or not” and “strictly prohibiting belief and religious activities violating national defence-security and sovereignty and social order and safety; infringing upon social ethics; health, life, and property, and others’ honour and dignity; impeding the exercise of citizens’ rights and obligations; dividing between followers and non-followers and amongst followers of different belief and religions, etc” (Article 5).  

Over the past years, given the Party and State’s sound policies and laws on freedom of belief and religion, Vietnam has recorded enormous achievements in ensuring people’s right to freedom of belief and religion. Never before has Vietnamese religious life seen a burgeoning development. Religious dignitaries and followers put their trust in the Party line and the State’s policies and laws; promote patriotic tradition; actively participate in socioeconomic development; and contribute substantially to the cause of national construction and renewal. According to preliminary statistics, as of 2017, Vietnam has recognized and licensed 41 religious organizations belonging to 14 different religions with 25 million followers, 53 thousand dignitaries, and 28 thousand facilities of worship. Religious organizations set up a considerable system of training nationwide with emphasis placed on strengthening international cooperation pertaining to religious affairs. The Vietnamese Government has enabled religious organizations to expand their extensive international cooperation as exemplified by wide-ranging exchange activities between domestic and international delegations of religions. The Government has also paid due regard to granting the registration of Protestant groups. At present, there are approximately 500 thousand followers belonging to Protestant organizations, denominations and groups in Binh Phuoc and the Central Highlands provinces of which over 400 thousand belonging to 240 chapters and 1,300 groups registered by local governments. The legal system of belief and religion has been amended, supplemented, and perfected as evidenced by the Law on Belief and Religion passed by the National Assembly in 2017 and in force since 1st January, 2018, serving as a legal basis for further ensuring people’s exercise of right to freedom of belief and religion. Being elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council by the highest vote and successfully defending 2nd-Cycle universal periodic review mechanism sessions truly testify to Vietnam’s efforts and achievements in promoting and protecting human rights, including the right to freedom of belief and religion.

That is what the realities have shown. Still, the hostile forces not merely refute, but twist, and equate the definition of “the natural rights theory of absolute freedom” with that of “rights to absolute freedom”. They maintain that human rights, including the right to freedom of belief and religion, which are innate, and independent on culture, the will of the class, community, or the state, can be bestowed on or taken away by none of entities, including the state. Given those arguments, they contend that Vietnam has no freedom of religion, and the Vietnamese State restricts and suppresses religions, and violates and represses the right to freedom of belief and religion. Besides, they find every way to lead people to falsely think that all religious activities are free, and not law-governed for the purpose of advocating the acts of abusing religions to break the Vietnamese laws. As a consequence, some of parishes formed the so-called “security Board” and “order Board” in the name of ensuring the order of religious services; inciting parishioners to disregard local governments’ order and State laws, boycott the elections, and reclaim lands, etc. When the governments step in to restore the order, and deal with illegal followers, they widely fabricate Vietnam’s religious suppression and democratic and human rights violations. The report on 2017 ASEAN religious freedom by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom continuously accused Vietnam of “restricting religious freedom” and “controlling religious activities in the name of protecting national security and maintaining national unity”.

It should be noted that freedom of religion is the polar opposite of freedom of manifesting religion. Like other social activities, genuine freedom of belief and religion is based on the supremacy of the law, and respecting and protecting legitimate rights and interests of others and of society. It would be “anti-liberal” to abuse the right to freedom of belief and religion to violate legitimate rights and interests of others, to disrupt political security and social order and safety. The development of religions in Vietnam is based on respecting the State laws; none of religions is put outside or above national interests. The Vietnamese laws strictly prohibit and punish those who abuse religions to infringe on legitimate interests of the State and citizens. When residing and working in Vietnam, every follower must respect and observe the Vietnamese laws in respect to exercising the right to freedom of belief and religion. This is totally in conformity with international laws on freedom of belief and religion.

Duc Quynh

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