Secretary of State Rice Sends Mixed Message on Religious Freedom in China
March 24, 2005
by Center for Religious Freedom
The Center for Religious Freedom said today that while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s public remarks regarding the lack of religious freedom in China were commendable, her attendance at a Palm Sunday service in Beijing’s Guangwashi Protestant Church, a state registered and sanctioned house of worship, sent a conflicting message.
"The Secretary's participation in a religious service at a government-sanctioned church in China sends the wrong message to people of various faiths suffering persecution throughout China, and gives the appearance of blithe indifference to their long-term struggle for religious freedom,” said Center for Religious Freedom Director Nina Shea.
The Guangwashi Protestant Church is subject to official intimidation. Along with other houses of worship within the Chinese government’s “patriotic” network of churches, it is closely monitored and controlled by, among other state entities, the Religious Affairs Bureau and the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party. In December 1994, Rev. Yang Yudong, the senior pastor of the Gangwashi church was dragged from the pulpit by riot police and stripped of his position by the Chinese government for leading prayers for the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He was replaced with a pastor handpicked by the state.
According to the U.S. State Department’s own reporting, “in some regions of China, members of Protestant house church groups, who refuse to register, are subject to intimidation, extortion, harassment, detention, and the closing of their churches.”
“President Bush has articulated the foreign policy goal of expanding freedom throughout the globe,” Ms. Shea said. “The cornerstone for this must be the basic ability to worship according to the dictates of individual conscience. While we are encouraged by the Administration’s stated commitment to continue raising concerns about religious persecution with China’s authorities, we believe that by attending services in the government-sanctioned churches, American officials are symbolically indicating that the U.S. acquiesces to Beijing’s claim of authority over all religious expression within the country.”
Earlier this month, Beijing imposed yet another law restricting religion, particularly as it relates to the issue of church registration.
Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has designated China a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. It has reported that “the government’s respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups and spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong.”
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