Natalie Wright Romeri-Lewis, Research Advisor

Liu Peng, Director, Pu Shi Institute for Social Science, China presented the top ten issues in religion and the rule of law in China today. First, China must define the role of religion it wants in its society and determine whether religion is a negative or positive element in society. He feels that more people today, as opposed to the 1960s, feel religion is useful and positive in society, but “no one makes an announcement” to that fact. Second, the new model must protect religious freedom and preserve the separation of church and state.

Third, China must determine the rule of religion during the social transition of implementing new laws. “China emphasizes that it will be governered by the rule of law, but can’t ignore or negate the effect of religion.”

Fourth, China needs to address the predicament of religion under the current mananement system. As house churches grow, their congregations need more and more room. Because of their unregistered status, some congregations meet in the street. Because China has limited resources, it cannot keep all dissidents in prison. Thus, the government is becoming more selective in who it arrests. The police might now arrest the leaders of congregations or the few leaders who associate with foreign leaders and release them with their legal documents upon their promise to stop associating with certain people. “The government saves face and the leaders save their idenity. However, “ineffectiveness is evident. Christian house churches continue to grow…. each time larger than before the leader went to jail.” Professor Liu also stated that “there is chaos within Buddhism and Taosism” and alienation of other groups. One specific problem concerns who manages the religious buildings that general funds. In such temples, visitors leave donations following worship. Who should divide up the donations between the builder and the government and how? Who should manage the building after the builder leaves the area? Which builders are scam-artists, abandoning buildings and fleeing town with donations, instead of true religious leaders? Of particular concern are the 100,000 military troops that have not returned from the Tibetan and Xin Jiang areas.

Fifth, China needs to develope a legal system that addresses religious concerns. To do this, the government needs to adopt at least basic laws, rather than regulations that fail to rise to the level of law. Because no law outlines the rights and responsibilities of religious communities, someome who complains of a religious freedom violation cannot hire an attorney to litigate under the law in court. Individuals cannot go to government either because they cannot cite a law as being violated. 

Sixth, only five religions have legal status in China. “Religions cannot go to the Civil Affairs Bureau to register because those who are registered don’t have to register, but those who can’t register will be arrested if trying to register or meet.”

Seventh, China needs to perceive that a “new religion” is one that has yet to obtain legal status in China — not a “non-established” religion.

Eighth, China faces a problem concerning what to do with the property of religious communities that have been confuscated. Who owns the schools and hospitals of the Roman Catholic Church that others have occupied?

Ninth, China has to decide how it will deal with state-run religious organizations and their property. Professor Liu wants no change in their property rights, but wants the government to stop financing the five major religions with legal status. He feels a “religion should be able to feed itself.” Last, Professor Liu wants to see Art. 36 of the PRC Constitution ammended. Currently, religious groups in China want a law discussing religion. But, “if the government passes a law on religion, the government might use that law to serve the government and not the people.” The law might backfire.

Ping Xiong, Lecturer, University of South Australia Law School, Australia spoke on The Freedom of Religion in China Under the Current Legal Framework and Foreign Religious Bodies. She reviewed China’s long history of religious communities and official government statistics noting the 100 mill. believers, 300+ clerical persons, 3000 religious bodies, and 85,000 specific places where religious practice is permitted.

She next listed the laws that affect and would be affected by religious practice in China. Religion in China is administrative in nature as seen by the Constitution’s prohibition of foreign domination and public disorder, the prohibition on the importation of foreign religious publications beyond “personal, rational use,” and the lack of laws through which individuals could interpret their rights. Moreover, Chinese individuals seeking to receive religious training abroad and foreign individuals seeking religious training in China must all obtain government approval.  Professor Ping concludes by advising religions that want legal status to first cooperate with PRC government officials using a top-down approach. Such religions need to perform much PR work and need to bring their good works to the attention of officials. Foreign religious bodies should also seek coopration with Chinese religious bodies. Last, unsuccessful relgious organizations can seek out Chinese to join their faith and then attemp to register the organization within China.