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China ‘s lesson on freedom of religion

By Richard W. Garnett

ICC Note: Here is an article about the big picture in China regarding religious freedom

3/26/07 China For full story…(USA Today) Although its government likes to claim otherwise, and apparently hopes people won’t notice, meaningful religious freedom does not exist in China . Quite the contrary: As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its report last year, “The Chinese government continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

And so, it was probably more disappointing than surprising when the government-controlled puppet church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, late last year purported to ordain a new bishop for Roman Catholics in the Xuzhou Diocese, about 400 miles south of Beijing, over the objections of the Holy See.

The Catholic Church’s resistance to China ‘s efforts to control the flock by picking the shepherds is a reminder that free and independent non-state institutions – for example, political parties, labor unions, social clubs and churches – are essential to the development and survival of civil society and political freedom. It might not be easy to appreciate, given how we’ve become used to thinking of “the Vatican ” as hide-bound and authoritarian, but the Holy See is waging a crucial fight for freedom. What’s more, China ‘s heavy-handed hostility to independent institutions highlights the importance, and real meaning, of the “separation of church and state.”

The struggle for the church’s freedom in China reminds us that what the separation of church and state calls for is not a public conversation or social landscape from which God is absent or banished. The point of separation is not to prevent religious believers from addressing political questions or to block laws that reflect moral commitments. Instead, “separation” refers to an institutional arrangement, and a constitutional order, in which religious institutions are free and self-governing – neither above and controlling, or beneath and subordinate to, the state. This freedom limits the state and so safeguards the freedom of all – believers and non-believers