Response of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong To Mrs Carrie Lam’s “Proposal of Setting up a ‘Religious Affairs Unit’” in her Manifesto of Chief Executive Election
In Mrs Carrie Lam’s Manifesto for 2017 Chief Executive Election, there is a mention of a possible study “of setting up a ‘Religious Affairs Unit’” in its Points 6.43 and 6.44. Cardinal John Tong of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has written a letter to Mrs Lam on March 2, expressing the Diocese’s resolute opposition of a possible “setting up of a ‘Religious Affairs Unit’” or similar institutions in Hong Kong.
According to Ming Pao Daily News of March 3, Mrs Lam “acknowledged that the proposal has aroused misgivings among Christian groups”, and she assured that “that Point in her Manifesto can be abandoned, or the proposal can be put aside even after the study is completed”.
The Basic Law guarantees Hong Kong residents the freedom of religious belief. However, Mrs Lam’s reply with words like “can be abandoned” and “can be put off” will definitely arouse local Christians to have worries about the freedom of religion in Hong Kong. Therefore, our Diocese urges Mrs Lam to remove those two Points in her Manifesto.
The rationale for our stand is as follows:
1.In the Outline of the Draft Basic Law passed at the Second Plenary Meeting of the Basic Law Drafting Committee in April 1986, it was stipulated in Article 7 of Chapter III “Fundamental Rights and Duties of the Residents” that states “freedom of religious belief”. However, in Article 4 of Chapter VI “Education, Science, Culture, Sports, Religion, Labour and Social Services”, an article on “religious policy” was written into it, causing great concern among Church people. Finally, with strong opposition of the Basic Law drafters of the religious sector of Hong Kong, the article on “religious policy” was taken out to avoid restrictions over religions in Hong Kong.
2.In the years before the reversion of Hong Kong to Mainland China in 1997, as well as during the first twenty years after the reversion, the interactions between the Hong Kong Government and all religions in the SAR have been very harmonious and smooth, without any difficulties in communications. All religions continue to render numerous social services, to participate in the construction of a civic society, and to build up a collaborative relationship with the local Government. As all the existing interactive mechanisms are effective, it is not necessary to change them in an indiscreet manner.
3.The suggestion of setting up a “Religious Affairs Unit” can easily give people an impression that the local Government is directing and controlling religions. Therefore, it will lead the public to think that the Hong Kong Government intends to control religions here. This will certainly create unnecessary confusion and conflicts in society.
4.The Mainland is led by an atheist and communist Government, and the Government is mainly directed by atheist officials who may involve “religious affairs” units or departments to grasp the situations of religious organizations. However, in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, Government officials have sufficient channels to contact religions directly, without any need to have such a “religious affairs unit” or department for contacts.