Promoting religious freedom is a central objective of American foreign policy. It is grounded in our commitment to advance respect for fundamental freedoms around the world. Freedom to hold or not hold religious beliefs without government interference is a basic human right. This principle has played a vital role in American history and culture, as well as those of nations throughout the globe. Indeed, it is articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To better inform its policies toward other nations, the U.S. State Department annually prepares a report on the status of religious freedom. Its focus is to recognize government actions that protect and promote religious freedom, and to cite those that contribute to religious repression or intolerance.
In Vietnam, religious groups reported general improvement in the protection of their freedom to worship over the last year. The government permitted Buddhist, Catholic, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Protestant faiths to hold large-scale religious services throughout the country, some with more than 100,000 participants. New congregations were registered in many of the 64 provinces, and one new religious group and two Protestant denominations were recognized nationally. Catholic leaders from the Vatican in Rome and Vietnamese officials agreed to the naming of a nonresident representative for Vietnam, a first step toward full diplomatic relations.
Despite areas of progress, significant problems remained, especially at the provincial and village levels. Some local officials occasionally harass and use excessive force against members of religious groups and have significantly delayed approving registrations of Protestant congregations. The national government continues to discourage participation in factions of the Hoa Hao Buddhists and Cao Dai faiths it does not recognize. It also monitors activities of the Unified Buddhist church of Vietnam. There were also instances where local authorities took part in or sanctioned violence against religious groups, including the Plum Village Buddhist community at Bat Nha and the Catholic Church's Dong Cheim parish.
This year's religious freedom report reaffirms the U.S. government's engagement with faith-based groups around the world to address the issues that affect them. Our embassies will continue to support interfaith dialogue and will work with religious groups across a full range of issues. We will also continue to speak out against the curtailing of religious liberty wherever and whenever it occurs.