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Religious Freedom Still Lags in Vietnam


Vietnamese seminarian line up during ceremonies at the Catholic Church of Hanoi in Vietnam Sunday Nov. 19, 2006. While restrictions remain, harassment has eased enough that the United States decided this week to remove Vietnam from a list of the world's w

U.S. State Department's most recent findings on religious freedom in Vietnam produced mixed results.

Religious freedom – your right to worship as you choose -- is central to our national identity as Americans and a core objective of U.S. foreign policy. The right to believe in a religious creed or not, without fear of government interference, is essential to human dignity, robust civil society and sustainable democracy.

To promote these principles, our government annually compiles a report on the status of religious liberty in every country around the world. It documents the actions of governments that repress spiritual expression by their citizens and those that respect it.

Its most recent findings on religious freedom in Vietnam produced mixed results. While the Southeast Asian nation’s constitution and other laws and policies provide for the right to worship as one chooses, in practice the government restricts such freedoms, particularly at the local level.

Unregistered and unrecognized religious groups were often subject to harassment and punitive actions by authorities, particularly in the Central and Northwest Highlands. Religious instruction of any kind is barred in the nation’s schools.

At the same time, however, the government eased restrictions on religious groups registered with it and expanded the number of registered church congregations. Authorities approved activities that had been prohibited in practice in the past, including expansion of religious facilities, such as construction of a new headquarters for the United World Mission Church in Danang.

The number of approved religious events also rose, notably an Assumption Day celebration in Quang Tri province that drew an estimated 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics. Vietnam recently recognized the representative committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on its path to national recognition. The Vietnamese government also facilitated the visit to Vietnam by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in late July.

Religious freedom is a universal value. The freedom to profess and practice one’s faith, to believe or not believe, or to change one’s beliefs, is a birthright of every human being. Our nation will continue to promote this universal right as a moral and strategic imperative.

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