To: Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs

Upon receiving the Official Correspondence No. 40/TGCP-PCTT dated April 14, 2015 from the Ministry of Internal Affairs- Government Committee for Religious Affairs asking us to comment on the 4 draft bills on Faith, Religion (hereafter 4 Draft Bills), we, including the bishop, clergies, men and women religious, faithful of Bac Ninh diocese would like to voice our comments and suggestions as follow:

1. Assessment

Pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (12-10-1948) to which the government of Vietnam had signed:

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 (Article 18)

Pursuant to The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (amended in 2013):

Human rights and citizens' rights in the political, civil, economic, cultural and social fields shall be recognized, respected, protected and guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and law (Article 14)

Everyone has the right to freedom of faith and religion, and has the right to follow any religion or to follow no religion. All religions are equal before law (Article 24)

Pursuant to the View of the Vietnamese Bishop Conference:

Everyone has the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the right to follow any religion or to follow no religion, the right to practice religious rituals, both individually and communally. None of religion or ideology can be considered mandatory for Vietnamese people. The government should not propagate negative views on religions nor interfere with the internal religious affairs such as formation, ordination, transfer of clergy, adjusting ecclesiastical borders...Religious organisations should have the freedom to engage in activities that serve the society in the areas of social welfare (Viewpoints and Suggestions on the draft amendments to 1992 Constitution)

After comparing with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, and The View of The Vietnamese Bishop Conference, we would like to present our views as follow:

Political power is what handed to the government by the people in order to create a lawful condition and convenient environment for human rights to be enforced, not to be distributed arbitrarily. Therefore, human rights have to be acknowledged, respected, protected and guaranteed by the government in accordance with the constitution and the law.

The current Draft Bills is against the right to freedom of religion and faith. It is unable to keep pace with the social progress. Human society in general and Vietnam in particular operate and develops towards liberal democracy. However, an overall view of the draft bill indicates that it is going against The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam which was amended in 2013. We observe that the Draft Bills is a setback compared to the religious ordinance in 2004.

II. Our suggestions

1. The Draft Bills failed to mention the legal status of religious organizations. We, therefore, suggest that the religious organizations be entitled and their legal status clearly defined as in the case of other social organizations.

2. The law stipulates that people are equal before the law. Currently, individual, social as well as foreign organizations are permitted to run hospitals and schools. Therefore, we suggest the religions and their dignitaries should also enjoy those equal rights.

3. Freedom of religion is a right, not a privilege. But the Draft Bills show many shortcomings and limitations on this right. All religious organizations and their dignitaries instead of enjoying the legitimate rights, have to be asking for them when they want to organize ceremonies, training, ordination etc...

4. Regulations on Article 56 of the Draft Bill 4 are too meticulous and strict on the construction of religious establishments. This goes against the government's policy on reform and the simplification of administrative procedures

5. The Draft Bill for faith and religion should recognize the right to own, to protect land and properties of people, including all faiths and religious organizations as claimed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 17) that the overwhelming majority of the advanced nations of the world are exercising.

6. The right to freedom of faith and religion should be legally protected and not administered.

7. Chapter X and Chapter XI of Draft Bill 4 do not respect the freedom of faith and religion. It is in conflict with Article 2 of the Draft Bills as well as with The 1992 Constitution and its amended version in 2013.

The above are our sincere comments and suggestions. We wholeheartedly hope that the Law on faith and religion is indeed a legal document of progressiveness, for the happiness of people, where the biggest of all happiness is the freedom to practice their religious beliefs and live their spiritual life. Only then society can develop steadfastly and beautifully, when all are aiming for serving the people in harmony with the development of mankind including the people of Vietnam.

On behalf of the diocese

Joseph Nguyen Duc Hieu

Vicar General

(Signed and sealed)

Translated from Vietnamse by VietCatholic News