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Religion Bulletin, November 2021: An Hoa Parish Lodges Complaint As The Land It owned Pre-1975 Is Divided And Sold

The parcel of land, previously a school, is currently on sale for 40 million dong/m2.

[The Government’s Reach]


An Hoa parish lodges complaint against the Da Nang municipal government for permitting the division and sale of parish land handed over to the government after 1975


In November 2021, An Hoa parish continued submitting petitions to request that the An Khe Ward and Thanh Khe District People’s Committees cease construction on the land at 223 Truong Chinh Rd., bordering the parish church. [1]

According to the parish, the land belonged to them prior to 1975. After 1975, the parish allowed the state to appropriate it for industrial production, the making of handicrafts, and the creation of favorable conditions for some parishioners to farm.

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The disputed piece of land next to An Hoa parish church, listed online for 40 million dong (US$1765) /m2. Photo: Batdongsan.com.vn.

On May 20, 2019, the An Khe Ward People’s Committee invited a representative of An Hoa parish to participate in a consultation session regarding plans to turn the land into a residential neighborhood. [2] During the session, the parish representative disagreed with the land repurposing and reaffirmed the parish’s ownership of the land.

On June 13, 2019, the Da Nang Department of Natural Resources and the Environment responded to An Hoa parish’s request for the return of its land. [3] The department stated that the Da Nang Municipal People’s Committee had granted usage rights to a different entity in 2007.  In 2010, the land was auctioned off to a company. In 2017, the land was repurposed from production and industry to commerce and service. As such, the department stated that the parish’s request for the land’s return was baseless.

Responding to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, An Hoa parish stated in a June 19, 2021 petition that it did not receive any kind of notification from the Da Nang Municipal People’s Committee when it issued the usage rights for another entity in 2007. The parish continued to insist that the authorities return the land. [4]

On March 29, 2021, according to the parish, a private entity began construction on the land. The parish submitted a petition to the authorities requesting a cessation, but on November 9, 2021, it learned that construction would continue even though the dispute had yet to clearly resolved. [5]

Currently, the land is being divided and sold as residential land under the name 223 Truong Chinh Residential Neighborhood, or Athena Royal City, with a price of 40 million dong (US$1765) /m2.[6]

After 1975, the Saigon Archdiocese and the Hue Diocese had decided to allow the state to use church facilities for education. In a number of other locations, parishes lent land to local authorities in various arrangements.

In 2008, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued a directive on religion-affiliated real estate. State bodies continued using land belonging to religious establishments but had to do so appropriately and effectively; otherwise, the land would be passed to another body or returned to the religious organization. [7]

However, for many years, authorities in a number of locations have quietly granted third-party usage rights for borrowed land without notifying parishes or the Catholic Church.

Further reading: 10 Catholic schools the government has borrowed or taken and refuses to return

Ministry of Home Affairs begins amending decree guiding the implementation of the Law on Faith and Religion

On November 26, 2021, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (GCRA) organized a meeting to amend and supplement Decree #162/2017/ND-CP, which regulates in detail the implementation of the Law on Faith and Religion. [8] [9]

Vu Chien Thang, head of the GCRA and vice minister of Home Affairs, stated that after three years of implementation, the decree demonstrated shortcomings that need to be amended and supplemented. However, the article describing the meeting did not specifically address what these inadequacies were.

Decree #162/2017/ND-CP was promulgated in December 2017, with 25 articles divided into 6 chapters. The decree mainly stipulates the requirements and sequence of state approval for religious activities not covered in the 2016 Law on Faith and Religion.

For the past three years, the 2016 Law on Faith and Religion, along with this decree, has allowed the state to interfere in religious activities. The state is the deciding authority on sites for religious gatherings, as well as internal activities such as personnel selection, ordination, and donation drives.

In particular, some provisions of the decree discriminate between Vietnamese religious organizations and religious organizations with foreign elements.

Article 17 of the decree stipulates that the ordination, appointment, nomination, and election of dignitaries and officials of religious organizations with foreign elements and Vietnamese followers must be vetted by the central government’s religious management agencies before being carried out. Similarly, Article 18 of the decree stipulates that Vietnamese citizens who have been ordained, appointed, nominated, or elected abroad must have state approval upon returning home before carrying out their duties.

Meanwhile, Article 33 of the Law on Faith and Religion stipulates that Buddhism, Protestantism, Caodaism, the Pure Land Buddhist Association of Vietnam, and other religions in the country only need to notify state bodies of those who have been ordained or nominated as those religions’ dignitaries. [10]

According to the GCRA, the amendment and supplementation of Decree #162/2017/ND-CP will be handled by a drafting committee headed by the vice minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang and a team of editors.

Government Committee for Religious Affairs and Long An Province authorities prosecute a religious establishment for profiteering

On November 5, 2021, the GCRA notified the media of the case of “Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru” – an independent religious establishment of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church in Hoa Khanh Tay Commune, Duc Hoa Suburban District, Long An Province.

The GCRA reported that the establishment showed signs of abusing religion for profiteering. [11]

In addition to this, Long An provincial authorities conveyed to the GCRA that the establishment had violated a number of state regulations regarding land management and construction.

The Central Vietnamese Buddhist Church also reported to the GCRA that the establishment was not legal and asked the Long An provincial authorities to prosecute it. [12]

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Police News, the religious establishment was independently established in 2015 and named “Tinh That Bong Lai” by an 88-year-old man who proclaimed himself “venerable master and abbot.” In 2020, the establishment changed its name to “Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru.” For the past two years, the establishment has drawn the attention of the public after its members participated in entertainment programs on social media and television. [13]

The GCRA accused the “Thien Am Ben Bo Vu Tru” religious establishment of showing signs of abusing religious activities for profiteering.

In response to the GCRA’s accusations, a representative asserted that the establishment was a private residence rather than a religious facility and that members of the family wore Buddhist monk-style clothing to practice at home. [14]

On November 7, 2021, Nguyen Van Ut, chairman of the Long An Province People’s Committee, informed The Labor (Lao Dong) that he had dispatched police to investigate the establishment but did not provide further details. [15]

Currently, the government does not allow citizens to openly operate self-established pagodas. Anyone who wants to turn their residence into a pagoda must have the sponsorship of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church.

In practice, this rule obstructs the religious needs of numerous households. Many families would like to transform their houses into pagodas but must do so quietly to avoid interference from the authorities and the Vietnamese Buddhist Church.

This form of control has led to a veritable Buddhist monopoly. Currently, the Vietnamese Buddhist Church is the only Buddhist organization recognized by the government, and all public Buddhist activities must be sanctioned by the church.

Further reading: 40 years of Buddhist monopoly

[New Religions]

Government Committee for Religious Affairs acknowledges positive aspects to new religions movement but stays mum on when it will allow them to operate

In a document published November 2021, the GCRA acknowledged the positive aspects of the new religions movement in Vietnam. [16]

The document was a supplement for state cadres, providing them background on faith and religion in Vietnam, including general information on orthodox religions, new religions, and policies on faith and religion.

The document devoted one chapter to the new religions movement, of which the GCRA named five positive aspects of new religions:

  • Meet the spiritual needs of the people. The movement encourages simple and frugal ways of life among its followers and helps the ill and the impoverished with meditation and simple remedies.
  • Point out and criticize the wastefulness, corruption, and vices of dignitaries of the larger religions, etc.
  • Elevate national heroes, eliminate superstitions, improve funeral practices, etc.
  • Participate in social welfare activities, “contributing funds to reduce hunger and poverty, building charity homes, helping flood victims, protecting the environment, and responding to climate change.”
  • Create competition and encourage traditional religions to better adapt to people’s spiritual needs.

This is all in theory; in actuality, the government labels many new religions “false” ones, even if they possess positive characteristics. The Duong Van Minh religion is an example. In a number of northern mountainous provinces, this religion is associated with the movement to improve the traditional funeral practices of the Hmong people. However, local authorities label it a false religion that disrupts the traditional culture of the Hmong. [17]

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Left: Followers of the Duong Van Minh religion head to Hanoi with Duong Van Minh in 2014. Photo: J.B. Nguyen Huu Vinh. Right: Police surround and dismantle a funeral home of the Duong Van Minh religion in 2013. Photo: Youtube Thanh Pham/as cited by BPSOS.

Also in the document, the GCRA divides new religions into three groups according to their “specific resolutions”:

  • The new religions have negative and dangerous political colors, adversely affecting human dignity and national identity.
  • The new religions have both positive and negative effects on social life.
  • The new religions that fully meet the conditions prescribed by the law; their activities do not violate the law.

The document, however, did not contain a list of new religions according to the above classification.

For religions that are seen as “having political colors,” the document clearly articulates that all levels of government must “resolutely fight” “to prevent hostile forces from taking advantage of new religions and turning them into political forces that oppose the government”.

According to the document, a new religion is considered to have negative effects on society when one of the following factors is present:

  • It connects the negative elements of society to political issues.
  • Takes advantage of believers by using their money or material possessions.
  • Distorts history, criticizes the regime, opposes or refuses cooperation with the government, spreads superstitions, or interferes with people's health.
  • Rejects traditional religions, increasing the risk of religious conflict.

The document also plainly states that "All new religious phenomena in Vietnam today have yet to be permitted by the State."

Hoa Binh News: Activities of new religions are diverse and have yet to disrupt security and order, but “contain many hidden complicated factors”

In November 2021, Hoa Binh News reported that the province had a number of new religions, including Falun Gong and Phap Mon Dieu Am, operating in diverse and complex forms that had not yet disrupted security and order. [18]

The paper, however, asserted that the activities of these new religious groups “contained many hidden complicated factors.”

For example, Phap Mon Diem Am operates in traveling form, meeting at restaurants and hotels. Many citizens returning from work overseas bring back with them Protestant proselytizing materials, which they then give to others in-person or online. A number of foreign organizations proselytize through charitable activities or medical treatment and education, making them difficult for local authorities to manage.

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Phap Mon Dieu Am documents were confiscated by border control at the Moc Bai international entry point; the materials were carried by tourists crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam in February 2020. Photo: Bien Phong News.

In actuality, it is the government's excessive obstruction and interference that contributes to the diversity and complexity of new religious activities. Local governments often use administrative regulations to prevent the activities of new religions, regardless of whether followers are secretly or openly religious.

At the beginning of June 2021, the vice minister of Home Affairs, Vu Chien Thang, stated that Vietnam welcomed religions, even "novel" ones. Despite this, the government has yet to take any action to allow the registration of new religions. [19]

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