China: State Control of Religion

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Religion is becoming more and more important in China. In a country that remains officially atheist, conversions to Christianity have risen sharply, the country's 19 million Muslims are attracting the attention of their co-religionists elsewhere, and Buddhism is the fastest growing religion of all. The Chinese government acknowledges 100 million believers of all faiths out of a population of 1.2 billion, but it has been using the 100 million figure since the mid-1950s. In the kind of intrusive control the Chinese government exercises over religious activities, it violates the rights to freedom of association, assembly, and expression as well as freedom of religion. The only limitations that a government can impose, according to the declaration, are those necessary to secure "due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others" and protecting "morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society." The peaceful gathering of unregistered groups is no threat to morality, public order, or general welfare; China's onerous registration requirements are clearly an unnecessary limitation on freedom of religion, particularly when failure to register results in some of the penalties outlined above.

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