Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion. The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons. It states all religions are equal before the law, and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion. The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion to violate the law.
The Law on Belief and Religion and implementing Decree 162, which came into effect in January 2018, serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities. At year’s end, the government still had not promulgated a decree prescribing penalties for noncompliance with the new law. The GCRA has stated, however, that the draft decree prescribing penalties is not vital as other laws mandate civil compliance with national law. The Law on Belief and Religion reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor and/or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct “superstitious activities” or otherwise violate the law.
A Cybersecurity Law that came into effect on January 1 allows authorities to monitor online user data and social media activity to “protect national security and social order.” The law prohibits users from online acts of organizing for “antistate” purposes, “distorting history,” destroying national solidarity, and conducting offenses against religion, gender, and race. The law also defines propaganda against the state as “causing hatred among ethnic groups, religions, and people of all countries.”
The government recognizes 38 religious organizations and one Dharma practice (a set of spiritual practices) that affiliate with 15 distinct religious traditions, as defined by the government. The 15 religious traditions are: Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i, Catholicism, Protestantism, Church of Jesus Christ, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Khmer Brahmanism, and Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism. Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition. Four additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, Vietnam Full Gospel Church, and Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church – have “registration for religious operation,” but they are not recognized as official organizations.
The law provides for government control over religious practices and permits restrictions on religious freedom in the interest of “national security” and “social unity” not otherwise defined.
The law specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities. The law also stipulates that religious organizations be allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the relevant laws.
The GCRA, one of 18 “ministerial units” under the Ministry of Home Affairs, is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees, and it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district levels. The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level GCRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders). The central-level GCRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.
By law, forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief is prohibited.
The law requires believers to register “religious activities” with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based” and prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.” The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities. A registration for religious operation allows the group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate officials; repair or renovate the headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter. To obtain this registration, the group must submit a detailed application package with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members and proof it has a legal meeting location. The relevant provincial GCRA office or the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces, is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt. The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing.
The second stage of institutionalization is recognition. A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years since the date of receiving the “registration for religious operation.” The religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously. To obtain such recognition, the group must submit a detailed application package to the provincial or national level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization. The application dossier must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; summary of history, dogmas, canon laws and rites; list and resumes, judicial records, and summary of religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; charter; declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters. The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt. The relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA is required to provide any rejection in writing. Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the religious organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.
The law states that religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers may file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits or make formal complaints about government officials or agencies under the relevant laws and decrees. The law also states that organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers. There were no specific analogous provisions in the previous laws.
Under the law, a religious organization is defined as “a religious group that has received legal recognition” by authorities. The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious groups to receive permission for specific religious activities by submitting an application package to the commune-level people’s committee. Regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to such an application within 20 working days of receipt. The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities requires advance approval or registration from authorities at the central and/or local levels. These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices of ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” held for the first time; the establishment, division, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of a religious training facility; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.
Certain religious activities do not require advance approval, but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities. Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals”; dismissal of clergy; conducting fundraising activities; notification of enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; the repair or renovation of religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious clergy (such as monks); transfers or dismissals of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and internal conferences of a religious organization.
The law provides prisoners access to religious materials, with conditions, while in detention. It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right. Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, or other types of confinement. This use and/or practice must not affect rights to belief/religion or nonbelief/religion of others or contravene relevant laws. The decree states the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents and the time and venue for the use of these documents.
The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities. Religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the relevant laws, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted. In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must occur in accordance with relevant laws and regulations on construction, and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration law.
The law states that publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must occur in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing. Legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises. Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts. By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books. Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.
The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people. According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees. The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and be allocated or leased land. The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain. The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.
Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land-use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004. Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights. In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes. Those who disagree with the chairperson’s decision may appeal to the minister of natural resources and environment or file a lawsuit in court.
In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually, but not corporately, as a religious establishment.
The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.
The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools. Private schools are required to follow a government-approved curriculum that does not allow for religious instruction. There are private schools run by religious organizations, but they are prohibited from providing faith-based education.
There are separate provisions of the law for foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions. The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad. Regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.