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China: Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs

(Nov. 9, 2017) On September 7, 2017, China’s State Council released a revised version of the Religious Affairs Regulations (Regulations), which will take effect on February 1, 2018; the Standing Committee of the State Council adopted the Regulations on June 14, 2017. (Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo Guowu Yuan Ling Di 686 Hao: Zongjiao Shiwu Tiaoli [Decree No. 686 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China: Religious Affairs Regulations] (Aug. 26, 2017), State Council website.) The Regulations are formulated with the stated goals of ensuring citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintaining religious and social harmony, and regulating the administration of religious affairs. (Religious Affairs Regulations 2017, CHINA LAW TRANSLATE (unofficial translation) (limited access).) Compared to the last version of the Regulations, which were released in November 2004 and took effect in March 2005, the revised version has amended, added, and abridged several provisions on  general principles, religious groups, religious schools, venues for religious activities, religious professionals, religious activities, religious assets, and legal responsibility (Regulations.)

General Principles 

The Regulations specify in Chapter I that citizens are entitled to the right of freedom of religious belief. (Id. art. 2 ¶ 1.) In the revised Regulations, an article is added stating that the management of religious affairs should adhere to the principles of protecting legitimate religious activities, curbing and preventing illegal and extreme practices, resisting infiltration, and fighting crime. (Id. art. 3.) Another new article prohibits individuals and organizations from creating contradictions and conflict between different religions, within a single religion, or between religious and non-religious citizens; from advocating, supporting, or funding religious extremism; and from using religion to undermine ethnic unity, divide the nation, or carry out terrorist activities. (Id. art. 4.)

The Management of Religious Affairs 

(1) Religious Groups and Schools

Under the revised Regulations, a new article asserts that religious groups are authorized to perform several functions, including assisting governments at all levels in the implementation of laws, regulations, rules, and policies; preserving the lawful rights and interests of citizens with religious beliefs; guiding the group’s religious affairs; formulating a system of rules and regulations for the group and supervising their implementation; engaging in religious cultural study; and carrying out religious education and training. (Id. art. 8.)

Article 9 of the revised Regulations states that only national religious groups and those in provinces, autonomous regions, and directly-governed municipalities may establish religious schools, select and send students of religion to study abroad, and receive students of religion from abroad. Other organizations or individuals do not have the right to set up religious schools, select students of religion to study abroad, or accept foreign students of religion. (Id. arts. 9 & 11.)

(2) Venues for Religious Activity

The revised Regulations specify that venues for religious activities include temples, churches, and other fixed places. Other religious gathering places should be determined by the religious affairs departments of province-level governments. (Id. art. 19.) In order to be established, a venue for religious activity must have the necessary funds from “legitimate sources.” The configuration of the venue should also meet the requirements of urban and rural planning. (Id. art. 20.)

Another new provision prohibits the construction of large, outdoor religious statues outside of temple and church grounds. (Id. art. 30.)

(3) Religious Professionals

The revised Regulations prohibit persons who have not obtained or who have lost religious professional credentials from engaging in activities as religious professionals. (Id. art. 36.) The Regulations also now state that religious groups, religious schools, and religious activity sites must handle social insurance registration for religious professionals in accordance with the relevant regulations. (Id. art. 39.)

(4) Religious Activities

The Regulations newly prohibit non-religious groups, non-religious schools, non-religious activity sites, and temporary activity sites not appropriately designated as religious ones from conducting religious activities, accepting religious donations, carrying out religious training, and organizing citizens leaving the country to participate in religious training, meetings, and activities. (Id. art. 41.) The Regulations also prohibit proselytizing, holding religious activities, establishing religious organizations, or setting up religious activity sites in schools or educational bodies other than religious schools.  (Id. article 44.) Several other provisions are added that regulate religious informational publications and online religious services. (Id. arts. 45-48.)

(5) Religious Assets

The revised Regulations provide that religious groups, schools, and venues can manage and use public assets or collectively owned assets in accordance with laws and regulations. They also enjoy ownership or other property rights with regard to other lawful assets. (Id. art. 49.)

Religious groups, schools, and venues may accept overseas or domestic donations for charitable causes in accordance with the law. (Id. art. 57.) In addition, they should adopt the national financial and accounting system and register as taxpayers. (Id. art. 59.)

Legal Responsibility  

The revised Regulations also establish additional provisions on legal responsibilities and punishments for violations of laws and regulations relating to religious affairs. (Id. Ch. VIII.) One of these new provisions provides that, in the case of advocating, supporting, or funding religious extremism, or using religion to harm national security or public safety, undermine ethnic unity, divide the nation and conduct terrorist activities, where a crime is constituted, criminal responsibility is pursued in accordance with law; where no crime is constituted, administrative punishments will be given by relevant departments in accordance with law; and where losses are caused to citizens, legal persons or other organizations, civil liability must be borne in accordance with law. (Id. art. 63 ¶ 1.)

Where religious groups, religious schools, or religious activity sites carry out any of the conduct in the preceding paragraph and “the circumstances are serious,” the relevant departments will employ the necessary measures to rectify it; those refusing rectification are to have their registration certificate or establishment permit revoked. (Id. art. 63 ¶ 2.)

Prepared by Yichao Zhang, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Laney Zhang, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.