The U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, an independent commission that provides advice to the U.S. Government on religious freedom issues, recently released an update on the implementation of Vietnam’s 2018 Law on Belief and Religion.
This law, said Dominic Nardi, a policy analyst at USCIRF, “requires all religious groups in Vietnam to register with the government and to report on any of their religious activities”:
“In some cases it even requires a religious group to seek approval from the government to do things like promote bishops or appoint new clergy members.”
In September 2019, a delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom met with a wide range of representatives, including Vietnamese government officials and religious communities, among others. USCIRF found some unregistered groups still face persecution, said Mr. Nardi:
“One of the disturbing things we learned on that trip was that some unregistered groups have faced harassment and even physical assaults from Vietnamese police authorities. This is why religious freedom matters.”
But for “recognized religious groups, the law did introduce some positive changes, such as granting registered religious organizations legal personhood,” the USCIRF report noted. Indeed, some of the representatives that USCIRF met with reported that “authorities had generally become more tolerant of religion, and state officials have prominently praised the role of religious organizations in promoting social welfare.”
USCIRF found that implementation of Vietnam’s religion law varies considerably across provinces and many religious groups that submitted applications reported facing obstacles, such as unreasonably long waiting periods.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby has stated that the Vietnamese government’s record on religious freedom is mixed: “We continue to have concern that unregistered religious groups in Vietnam are being harassed and are not able to freely practice their religion. That said those groups that have been willing to register under Vietnam's religious freedom law have enjoyed a greater degree of freedom to practice their religions than they have in the past.”
The U.S. urges Vietnam to ensure that all Vietnamese citizens are able to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of religion.