Participants in the Fifteenth Annual Symposium were privileged to enjoy the remarks of keynote speakers Michael O. Leavitt, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Doctor Zhou Xinping, Director of the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the Center for the Study of Christianity in the People’s Republic of China. Secretary Leavitt and Dr. Xinping spoke at the Opening Session of the Symposium on October 5.
Secretary Leavitt spoke about the practical role of religion and the government: “I suggest that religion and government should always be maintained as separate, but religious freedom and religious rights are not only in the interest of the people, they are in the interest of the nation.” He also explained that, in his experience, if he wanted to “find where the energy was within my community,” he needed to “turn to organizations such as churches.” He stated that these organizations could “each out and touch the hearts of people” and that this was important for governments to remember in seeking to administer programs.
Dr. Zhou Xinping reported on the role of religion in China. He discussed the situation that currently exists in China: “the freedom of religious beliefs remains a basic principle in the constitution of the Peoples Republic of China,” but there are, as yet, no decisive religion laws. He explained that there are many challenges creating a comprehensive religion law and discussed a few proposals for consideration. Secretary Leavitt’s and Dr. Xinping’s thoughtful addresses opened the Symposium and set the tone for two-and-a-half days of superb scholarly and practical discussion of the issues of national implementation of international protection of religious freedom.