By Thomas D. Williams, PH.D
In a new set of education rules, the Chinese Communist Party is urging citizens to spy on their neighbors and report parents who raise their children in a religious faith or have them attend religious services.
In the northwestern region of Xinjiang, the government released the new education norms on Wednesday, with special emphasis on religious formation, according to the U.S.-based human rights group China Aid.
The new rules, which will go into effect on November 1, stipulate that parents cannot “organize, lure or force minors into attending religious activities,” or force them to wear religious dress or symbols. Moreover, they cannot even “tolerate” that children attend “underground scripture studies.”
If parents are seen to be encouraging religion, “any group or person has the right to stop these kinds of behaviors and report them to the public security authorities,” the norms state.
While China officially guarantees the right to religious freedom, the Communist Party tightly regulates religious activities, including religious education, and discourages minors from receiving religious formation.
Chinese law prohibits children under the age of 18 from receiving any religious education, and the government approved Christian church, the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement,” explicitly bans its members from bringing their children up in the Christian faith, labeling the practice “brainwashing.”
Earlier this year, the ruling Communist Party issued an ultimatum to parents that if children do not stop attending church, they will be barred from attending college or entering the military.
A government office in the central Guizhou province sent a notice to all of the schools in the area announcing the decision, in an effort to discourage citizens from attending independent house churches and to switch to a church under government control.
The severe policy of the ruling party has insisted on government dominion even over personal matters such as faith and family size.
At the time, government officials forced members of the Huaqiu Church into signing a document stating that they would no longer take minors to church. Now, Christian children attending the church are no longer eligible for the college entrance exam or admittance into a military academy. Moreover, parents who take their children to church are subject to punishment.
Authorities also announced the termination of welfare and social security benefits for Christians who are caught attending church services.
A local source said that practicing Christians would no longer be eligible for social security benefits or old-age insurance. County officials “called on the government in the towns and villages to order believers to sign [a guarantee], stating that if they gathered again, their welfare would be cut off,” the source said.
The Chinese government has ratcheted up its persecution of “unofficial” religion not under government control, especially against Christianity, which is experiencing dramatic growth in the country.
In its annual report on international freedom released in August, the U.S. State Department denounced China’s continued suppression of religious liberty.
Despite China’s official policy of “freedom of religious belief,” the report states, in practice, “the government exercised state control over religion and restricted the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when these were perceived to threaten state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests.”