Bill in Congress Targets Religious Persecution

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The state of religious freedom -- or persecution -- in China continues to surface in various ways.

Currently making its way through Congress is the Freedom from Religious Persecution bill, which has China, Vietnam and the Sudan, particularly, in its sights. At the same time, the leader of an eight-member Beijing Religious Affairs Bureau delegation, on a visit to Washington in July, declared that China is enjoying a religious resurgence, "a golden time."

For Catholics, this divergence of perception is to some extent mirrored in China itself, where Beijing maintains a dual policy of cooperation with Patriotic Association -- "aboveground" -- Catholics (whose bishops are not recognized by the Vatican) and persecution of "underground" Catholics (whose bishops are). Beijing does not recognize the Vatican except as a "foreign power."

Possibly only 10 percent of China's 1.2 billion people adhere to one of the world's major religions. Nonetheless, the aboveground churches are certainly living in a "golden time" compared to the recent past. New churches are opening; seminaries are functioning.

Danny Yu of the evangelical Christian Leadership Exchange, which sponsored the visit of the Beijing group, told NCR that the trip was a study tour for the officials so they could see how U.S. religion functions in relation to the state.

There is a Patriotic Association covering Protestant churches, but Protestant underground churches, like underground Catholics, feel Beijing's wrath. "Of all the institutions, I think the evangelicals have the hardest time as a church in China," Yu said.

Nor is there any reflection of a "golden time" in House Bill 1686, the Wolf-Specter "Freedom from Religious Persecution Act" (there is a companion Senate bill). Other countries for which persecution monitoring is sought include Cuba, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Indonesia, Egypt and Laos.

The act -- which lists the persecuted as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and Baha'is -- calls for establishing a White House office to monitor religious persecution, sanctions or denial of World Trade Organization membership for offending nations and new standards for religious asylum seekers.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has not yet signed on to Bill 1685, which it finds "problematic. …