MFA Spokesman Says No Laws Restrict Ability of Minors to Hold Religious Beliefs

March 29, 2005

"China has no laws restricting minors from believing in religion," Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a press briefing on March 15. According to the Ministry’s Chinese language press release: "Liu Jianchao pointed out that the Chinese government respects and protects the religious freedom of all of its citizens. According to the Chinese Constitution and laws, citizens have the right to believe in religion, and have the right not to believe in religion. China has no laws prohibiting minors from believing in religion. Chinese law at the same time stipulates that no individual or organization may use religion to interfere in schools or in public social education. When the reporter followed up with a question on whether parents have the right to educate their children in religion, Liu Jianchao indicated that his understanding was they do."

The March 15 transcript of Mr. Liu’s remarks on the MFA Web site initially omitted any mention of the above exchange; the remarks were added to the Chinese-language transcript on March 16. The English-language release of the press briefing does not mention this question and answer on religion.

Mr. Liu’s understanding of the right of Chinese parents to teach religious beliefs and practices to their children appears incorrect. Several reports from within China indicate that local officials often punish parents for teaching their children about religion (see CECC roundtable "Practicing Islam in Today’s China"). Moreover, central government authorities launched a nationwide "Education About Atheism Campaign" in 2000; this campaign continues today, according to both official documents and unofficial sources.