(China – April 11, 2023) The State Administration of Religious Affairs of China recently drafted “Measures of Administration on Venues for Religious Activities” and seeks public opinion. The draft document strengthens China’s control of religious venues.
This document differs from similar measures issued in 1994. The initial measures were since repealed and covered by the Regulations on Religious Affairs that came into effect on March 1, 2005.
Contents of the “Measures of Administration on Venues for Religious Activities (Draft for Solicitation of Opinions)” are divided into ten chapters and seventy-six articles. The core orientation includes: “religious activity venues should support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, and thoroughly implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” “practice the core values of socialism,” adhere to the “direction of the Sinicization of religion” and “The principle of independence and self-governance,” “maintain national unity, ethnic solidarity, religious harmony, and social stability.”
In terms of approval and registration of venues for religious activities, the condition for approval requires the provision of a “Religious Personnel Certificate” recognized and issued by the government. Article 6 states that no affiliated relationship shall be formed between sites of religious activities. Article 16 requires venues of religious activities shall not be named after churches, denominations, names of people, and others.
The Measures proposed management organization. Managerial personnel are required to have political qualifications, such as “support the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” Leaders who participate in “illegal religious organizations, engage in illegal religious activities or provide convenience for illegal religious activities” will be replaced. The article also mentions that “being dominated by foreign forces, accepting teaching position appointments from overseas religious groups or institutions without authorization, and other violations of the principle of independence and self-governance of religion;” are also included in the scope of removal.
“Education” of personnel
Meanwhile, the Measures make provisions for personnel management. Article 36 points out that venues of religious activities should establish a learning system to organize personnel of said venues regularly. Personnel will study the principles and policies of the Communist Party, national laws and regulations, fine traditional Chinese culture, religious knowledge, and more.
Prohibiting activities outside
To prohibit religious activities outside, Article 42 prohibits believers from organizing and holding religious activities outside their designated venues. Article 47 places restrictions on Internet religious information services at sites for religious activities, which follow previous provisions for religious content online.
Illegal to construct new religious activity sites
Article 52 states the prohibition on the construction of religious activity sites and includes that no funds shall be raised through illegal means, no apportionment shall be made to citizens of religious belief, and no loans shall be made beyond the ability to repay. However, the measures do not point out what consists of the “illegal” collection of funds, nor does it explain what it means to borrow beyond the ability to repay.
Compared with the previous measures, the draft added many provisions that line up with China’s official ideology.
The Measures restrict the religious activities of Chinese citizens and cover all aspects of religious life. In the meantime, China controls religious venues by holding the ability to determine and explain what is “illegal” and “extreme.” The Measures prohibit churches from connecting with each other based on their own doctrinal characteristics and church traditions. Hierarchies like the Catholic Church and its appointment of bishops will be directly and severely tested.
According to the State Administration of Religious Affairs, the deadline for feedback on the Measures is April 24, 2023.
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid