II. Legal Guarantees for Freedom of Religious Belief
The socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics is continuously being improved, with enhanced implementation of the rule of law in protecting freedom of religious belief and increasingly standardized governance of religious affairs, providing stronger guarantees for the lawful rights and interests of its religious believers.
Freedom of religious belief is protected by the Constitution. According to Article 36 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No State organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion." Article 36 also stipulates that "No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the State," and that "Religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign control." These stipulations serve as the constitutional basis for the State in protecting citizens' freedom of religious belief, administering religious affairs in accordance with the law, and building positive relations with and among religions.
Freedom of religious belief is protected by basic laws. China's Criminal Law, National Security Law, and Counter-Terrorism Law provide for the protection of citizens' freedom of religious belief. The principle of equal protection for all Chinese citizens is enshrined in the Election Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses, Organic Law of the People's Courts, Organic Law of the People's Procuratorates, Organic Law of the Urban Residents Committees, Organic Law of the Villagers Committees, Criminal Procedure Law, Education Law, Labor Law, Employment Promotion Law, and Trade Union Law. These laws stipulate that all citizens enjoy equal rights to vote and stand for election to people's congresses at all levels and to community-level self-government organizations, the right to equality before the law, the right to education, the right to work and to free choice of employment, and the right to join or organize trade unions in accordance with the law, irrespective of religious belief. The Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy states that organs of self-government in ethnic autonomous areas shall guarantee citizens of all ethnic groups the freedom of religious belief. According to the Law on the Protection of Minors, minors enjoy equal rights to life, development, protection, participation and education in accordance with the law, irrespective of their religious belief. The Advertisement Law prohibits any advertisements that contain any information that discriminates against religions. The Criminal Law stipulates that workers of State organs involved in serious cases, which illegally deprive citizens of their right to freedom of religious belief, shall be investigated for criminal responsibility. The General Provisions of the Civil Law states that a lawfully established place of worship qualifying as a legal person may register for the status of legal person to accept donations.
Administrative regulations regarding religious affairs are improving. The revised Regulations on Religious Affairs released in September 2017 strengthen the protection of Chinese citizens' freedom of religious belief and the lawful rights and interests of religious groups, bring government's management of religious affairs under due procedures in accordance with the law, and add provisions on safeguarding national security and maintaining social harmony. The Regulations prescribe the rights and responsibilities of religious organizations, places of worship, and religious believers when establishing places for and holding religious activities, setting up and running religious institutions, applying for legal person status, publishing and distributing religious books and periodicals, receiving donations, managing religious property, conducting charity activities, and carrying out exchanges with other countries. The Regulations prohibit the commercialization of religions, and include additions concerning religious information services on the Internet. In addition, the Regulations also require local governments to provide public services to religious organizations, religious institutions, and places of worship, and incorporate such sites into the overall local plans for land use and urban and rural planning. The Regulations forbid any organization or individual from creating disputes and conflicts between believers and non-believers and prohibit print publications and the Internet from disseminating information which discriminates against religious or non-religious citizens.
The religious activities of foreigners in China are protected in accordance with the law. The Rules on the Administration of Religious Activities of Foreigners in the People's Republic of China highlights China's respect for the freedom of religious belief of foreigners within the territory of the People's Republic of China, and its commitment to protecting the friendly relations, and cultural and academic exchanges with regards to religion between foreigners and Chinese religious groups. Foreigners may attend religious activities at temples, mosques, churches, and other sites for religious activities. They are also permitted to preach at places of worship when invited to do so by Chinese religious bodies at or above the provincial level. Foreigners may hold religious activities attended by foreigners at sites approved by government religious affairs departments at or above the county level. They may invite Chinese clerical personnel to perform baptisms, weddings, funerals, prayers, or other religious services. They are allowed to carry religious printed text, audio-video products, and other religious articles that conform to relevant regulations when entering Chinese territory. Foreigners who conduct religious activities within China shall abide by Chinese laws and regulations. They shall not establish religious organizations, set up religious offices and sites for religious activities, run religious institutions, or recruit foreign students studying in China without authorization; nor shall they recruit followers, appoint clerical personnel from among Chinese citizens or engage in other missionary activities. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of Activities of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations Within China prohibits overseas NGOs from illegally engaging in or sponsoring religious activities.
Religious extremism and violent terrorist activities are dealt with in accordance with the law. The Counter-Terrorism Law of the People's Republic of China states that China opposes all extremism that seeks to instigate hatred, incite discrimination and advocate violence by distorting religious doctrines or through other means, and forbids any discriminatory behavior on the grounds of region, ethnicity and religion. The Regulations on Religious Affairs prohibit any organization or individual from advocating, supporting or sponsoring religious extremism, or using religion to undermine ethnic unity, divide the country, or engage in terrorist activities. China takes measures against the propagation and spread of religious extremism, and at the same time, carefully avoids linking violent terrorism and religious extremism with any particular ethnic group or religion.