What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China and America?

What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China and America? We have to start off with what freedom is “supposed” to mean. But even “supposed to” is in the eye of the beholder and the mouth of the speaker. It’s like a twist on an old joke, but the reality is this: How can you tell when a government is lying? It passes a law that claims to benefit everyone.

What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China and America? is article #2 in the series: China and America try to redefine Christianity. Click this button to view all titles for the series
What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China and America?  Not like a pigeon,

But first – can you guess what that pigeon image is about?

When I searched for a symbol of “religious freedom”, it came up. As did several similar ones.

Here’s why I picked this one. It was labeled as a white dove. That’s used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

But these aren’t white doves. Although, maybe the issue of some people thinking these are white doves, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, is an indication of the problem with religious freedom. We don’t know what it is. Or, maybe even more likely, we really don’t want it. Could it be that we want religious freedom for us, at the expense of the religious freedom for anyone who wants something different? So our words call it one thing. But our actions, like posting these pigeons as white doves, are very different.

Maybe it’s more like when a government passes any law. Or says anything.

But with religion, let’s face it, there are reasons why we have so many religions and why so many religions are broken up into different sects, denominations, etc.

So let’s begin with the government, actually the leader(s) in the government, claim to mean when they speak of religious freedom, aka freedom of religion.

What is religious freedom supposed to mean in the U.S.?

This one’s simple, so let’s begin with the U.S.

The reality is that the original Constitution says nothing about religion. Not a word.

However, the first amendment to the Constitution does include religion. It’s not about only religion, but it is in there.

Amendment I (ratified in 1791)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  1https://www.senate.gov/about/origins-foundations/senate-and-constitution/constitution.htm

The fact that it wasn’t ratified until 1791 tells us something. The following tells us more about the importance of “religion”, whatever was meant by that word at the time.

The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware on December 7, 1787, followed by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. Some states voiced opposition to the Constitution on the grounds that it did not provide protection for rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and press. However, the terms of the Massachusetts Compromise reached in February 1788 stipulated that amendments to that effect—what became the Bill of Rights—would be immediately proposed. The constitution was subsequently ratified by Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and, finally, New Hampshire.  2https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/the-day-the-constitution-was-ratified#:~:text=On%20June%2021%2C%201788%2C%20the,a%20long%20and%20arduous%20process.

So some statement on religion, and other things, was required. However, it still took two to three years to get the Bill of Rights ratified.

Even back then, religion was contentious. There was a desire to walk a line between religion not being allowed and having a government imposed religion. That made sense. After all, some of the people who came over here wanted to practice their take on Christianity. They didn’t want to be forced into The King’s (or the Queen’s) Christianity.

This mindset is very important when we look at what’s happening today in the U.S. We still have issues with “religious” Christianity versus “government” Christianity. By “religious”, I mean as defined by some formal church organization. Even non-denominational is an organization in this light. By “government”, I mean what any given religion effectively becomes as it’s enhanced and/or limited by laws passed by the government and defined by the courts.

As you can imagine, these two concepts will always be at odds.

What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China?

A press release from the Chinese government said:

China has revised its regulation on religious affairs, to take effect on Feb 1, 2018, according to a decree signed by Premier Li Keqiang and released by the State Council on Sept 7.

The last version of the regulation was released in November 2004 and took effect in March 2005.

The regulation is formulated with the goal of protecting citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintaining religious and social harmony and regulating the management of religious affairs.

It specified that citizens are entitled to the right of freedom of religion.

On the other hand, Reuters has this take on the new Chinese Regulations on Religious Affairs –

President Xi Jinping has emphasized the need to guard against foreign infiltration through religion and the need to prevent the spread to “extremist” ideology, while also being tolerant of traditional faiths that he sees as a salve to social ills.

The officially atheist ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.

The rules, which come into effect on Feb 2, 2018, also place new oversight on online discussion of religious matters, on religious gatherings, the financing of religious groups and the construction of religious buildings, among others.

They increase existing restrictions on unregistered religious groups to include explicit bans on teaching about religion or going abroad to take part in training or meetings.

OK – there’s a huge discrepancy in there!

Both countries pass laws. Neither country’s laws actually match with what the government officials tell the people they do. Again, how do you tell when they’re lying?

Even though most religions have some prohibitions on lying, it’s done all the time when government and religion come together.

It reminds me of something. A conversation a long time ago.

Did God really say …

Back then, it was Satan asking Eve about God.

Now, it’s the government asking us about God.

Going along with the questioner, whether Satan or God, is a losing proposition for Christians.

We’d do well to remember an exchange between Jesus and Pilate when Jesus was questioned before His crucifixion.

Jesus Before Pilate

18:29-40 pp — Mt 27:11-18, 20-23; Mk 15:2-15; Lk 23:2, 3, 18-25

Jn 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Jn 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

Jn 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Jn 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jn 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jn 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Jn 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

Jn 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Notice especially:

Jn 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Jn 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

As followers of Jesus, whose Kingdom do we belong to? God’s Kingdom? Or the government’s?

And also remember, who is it that’s currently the prince of this world? If you don’t remember, it’s the same one who originally asked, “Did God really say …?”

Conclusion – What is religious freedom supposed to mean in China and America?

Both countries claim to be for and to support freedom of religion.

We’ve already seen, very briefly, how impossible this goal is.

But here’s a little something to give you a flavor of what’s coming. The primary source for the flow of this series is going to be China’s Religious Regulations. We look at it from both a Chinese and American perspective.

To that end, here’s how the first article in China’s regulations begins:

Chapter I: General Provisions

Article 1: These Regulations are formulated in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws so as to ensure citizens’ freedom of religious belief, maintain harmony among and between religions, maintain social harmony, regulate the administration of religious affairs, and increase the level of legalification in work on religion.

Article 2: Citizens have the freedom of religious belief.

Yeah – right. Like those things are ever going to happen all at once. Not even one at a time.

And what is that legalification all about?

That’s the kind of stuff we’ll be looking at in this series.

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My source for the Religious Affairs Regulations 2017 excerpts is China Law Translate. From their website:

China Law Translate (CLT) is a collaborative translation project dedicated to facilitating communication between Chinese and foreign legal professionals by creating fast and reliable translations of Chinese legal authority. Since its launch in 2013, CLT has become an authoritative English-language source for news and analysis on Chinese law, as well as an indispensable source of quality translations.

They are crowd sourced, and supposedly receive no funds from any countries.

I have compared their translations to a couple of others, and there appear to be no major discrepancies. Obviously, there are wording differences in any translation, but it appears to be accurate for our purposes here. Not legal advice – but to look at the culture, religion, and what these regulations attempt to do to both.

Text from the translation of the Chinese Religious Affairs Regulations with be formatted like this to identify them as such.

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