Church in Vietnams faces challenges with law regulating religion

(Photo: REUTERS / Kham)Catholics hold candles and posters with the image of lawyer Le Quoc Quan during a mass prayer for Quan at Thai Ha church in Hanoi February 16, 2014. Participants in the mass prayer also called for justice for Quan, a political dissident and democracy activist, ahead of his appeal trial which will be happened on February 18, his brother Le Quoc Quyet said. The Hanoi's People Court sentenced Quan, a political dissident and pro-democracy activist, to 30 months in jail for tax evasion after a half-day trial on October 2, 2013. The banner reads: Free for Le Quoc Quan.

The church in Vietnam now faces more challenges than ever with a recent decree by the Vietnamese government to regulate religion in the country.

Decree 95 follows regulations introduced by the Vietnamese Law on Belief and Religion, The Threefold Advocate, John Brown University's Student Newspaper, reported on April 18.

That decree allows the Vietnamese government to require churches and other religious groups to submit financial records to the government.

According to the report, the decree also allows for the suspension of religious activities for any unspecified reason.

The decree reinforces the legal framework set up by the Vietnamese Law on Belief and Religion, which requires churches and other religious groups to alert the government to their operations.

Christianity Today reported earlier in April that many local churches and religious leaders believe the government decree is an attempt by the Vietnamese government to get the country off the U.S. Special Watch List.

The Special Watch List stems from the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

According to the U.S State Department website, that is where the "President is required to annually review the status of religious freedom in every country in the world and designate each country the government of which has engaged in or tolerated 'particularly severe violations of religious freedom.'"

Vietnam is on the U.S. Special Watch List and appeared in a 2024 report on persecuted churches.

The latter report was released by Open Doors, a non-profit Christian ministry that seeks to support the global persecuted church.

In the report, Vietnam placed 35th out of 50 countries where Christians face Christians in Vietnam.

The most recent Special Watch List designations were made by the Secretary of State on December 29, 2023, and Vietnam was listed as one of the countries of Particular Concern, or Special Watch List Countries, and Entities of Particular Concern

Countries of Particular Concern, Special Watch List Countries, Entities of Particular Concern

Of Vietnam's estimated population of some 106 million people, Christians account for about 7.1 percent, most of whom are Catholics, according to the CIA Factbook.

Open Doors' top-tier Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list includes Myanmar (No. 17 on the 2024 WWL), China (No. 19), Cuba (No. 22), Eritrea (No. 4), Iran (No. 9), North Korea (No. 1), Nicaragua (No. 30), Pakistan (No. 7), Russia (which exited the WWL in 2022), Saudi Arabia (No. 13), Tajikistan (No. 46), and Turkmenistan (No. 29).

Its second-tier Special Watch List includes Algeria (No. 15), Azerbaijan (unranked but monitored by Open Doors), the Central African Republic (No. 28), Comoros (No. 45), and Vietnam (No. 35).

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