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Official Gazette

Monday, December 5, 2022

Vietnamese law and policy on religion and belief

Updated: 17:11’ - 29/06/2012

Nguyen Khac Huy
Government Committee for Religious Affairs

Vietnam is a multi-ethnic nation. Each of its 54 ethnic groups has their own traditional cultural identities, beliefs and religions in various forms such as folk belief of worshiping ancestors and persons who made great contributions to the nation or the community, and religious beliefs. In Vietnam, some religions are indigenous, some are introduced from abroad, some have existed for thousands of years and some are new. All religions have normal and stable religious activities associated with the economic, cultural and social conditions.

Over 80% of the population of Vietnam practice religious activities. Religions in Vietnam include Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Cao Dai, Islam, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Baha’i and some religious organizations and sects with more than 30 registered and recognized religious organizations, which have stable religious activities closely attached to the whole nation with the motto “good life, good religion” and taking place in accordance with law. Besides, there are unrecognized religious organizations and sects with their followers still engaged in normal religious activities, creating a rich spiritual life in all regions across the country.

According to incomplete statistics, there are about 20 million religious believers with nearly 80,000 dignitaries and monks and around 25,000 worship places and religious schools of religious organizations.

Policies on religion and belief

Through different revolutionary periods, the State of Vietnam has always attached great importance to religious affairs. In the national democratic people’s revolution, the policy of “religious freedom, uniting religious and non-religious people” has greatly contributed to the cause of national unity and the victory of the revolution for national reunification and independence. In the socialist revolution, especially in the “doi moi” (renewal) period, the State has asserted that “Religion is a long, persistent matter. Belief and religion are spiritual needs of some groups of people. Religious ethics have much in accordance with the building of a new society.”

After more than 25 years’ implementing the “doi moi” policy, Vietnam has achieved many progresses in mobilizing religious people to take part in the patriotic emulation movements, building the great national unity. Religious people have made positive contributions to national construction and defense. The recognized religions operate in line with national interests, building a good life and a good religion, contributing to the national development.

The state authorities of all sectors and levels have actively implemented the State’s policies on socio-economic development, ensuring political security in religious regions, fighting and preventing activities which take advantage of freedom of belief and religion for other purposes. However, religious activities and religious work still have some limitations.

To overcome the limitations in religious work in a changing situation, especially in the context of international integration, Vietnam’s policies on religion have also seen major changes as follows:

Firstly, belief and religion are spiritual needs of a segment of the population. Those needs currently exist and will continue to co-exist with the nation during the process of building socialism in Vietnam. Followers of different religions are an integral part of Vietnam’s great national unity. There is consistent implementation of the policy to respect and guarantee the people’s right to freedom of belief, the right to follow or not to follow any religion, and the right to take part in normal religious activities in accordance with law. Religious activities must be in accordance with the legal framework. All religions are equal before law.

Vietnam has co-existing religions with large numbers of dignitaries and followers and stable religious activities. Reality has proved that timely meeting the legitimate needs of religious followers will encourage them to actively participate in national construction and defense.

Religions in Vietnam have existed with and attached to the nation, making great contributions to the formation and preservation of national cultural identities. Religious ethics have values suitable to the building of the new society. Ensuring religious freedom is a progressive trend and a major policy of many countries around the world. Respect for freedom of belief and religion to follow or not to follow a religion or belief is an important factor in promoting the strength of the great national unity. The freedom of belief and religion to follow or not to follow a religion or belief is not only one of the fundamental human rights but also a principle in the relationship between the State of Vietnam and religious organizations.

Respect for freedom of belief and religion must distinguish between freedom of belief and religion and the action of taking advantage of religion for other purposes; and must meet the legitimate needs of religious believers such as the right to engage in normal religious activities under the law or the demand for physical facilities for religious activities.

Secondly, the State of Vietnam consistently implements the policy of great national unity, promoting the unity of followers of different religions and unity between believers and non-believers. The positive values in the tradition of worshiping ancestors and honoring those who have made great contributions to the nation and the people should be maintained and developed. Discrimination against citizens for their belief or religion is prohibited. At the same time, the State prohibits taking advantage of belief or religion to engage in superstitious activities, in activities that are contrary to the State’s law and policy, or in activities that encourage division among the people or between ethnic groups or that disturb public order or infringe upon national security.

Great national unity is the goal of all people, the source of power, the major motivation and decisive factor to ensure the sustainable success of the cause of national construction and defense. To firmly maintain national independence and unity for the purposes of a prosperous people, a strong nation and a democratic, equitable and civilized society is regarded as the common goal.

Inferiority, prejudice and discrimination must be abolished and the spirit of openness, mutual trust and looking forward to the future must be built. Discrimination is prohibited in order to bring into play the power of the great national unity; superstitious belief or religion is forbidden for a good religious life and promote the positive values ​​of belief and religion.

Thirdly, the core of religious affairs is people mobilization. Great national unity with the goal of a prosperous people, a strong country, and a democratic, equitable and civilized society draws followers of religions together in a common cause. Each citizen, regardless of belief or religion, has both the right and the obligation to build and protect the homeland.

Religious affairs should encourage the people to uphold their patriotic spirit and determination to protect national independence and unity. Implementation of socio-economic policies and public security and national defense activities must ensure material and spiritual needs of the people, including followers of religions.

Freedom of religion is the right of human beings. Struggling for national independence and happiness of the people is the sacred ideal of everyone and also the right and obligation of citizens.

Each religion has its humanity values ​​like compassion of Buddhism, human sense of Cao Dai, charity of Catholicism, the Vietnamese national tradition of worshiping ancestors which fosters the national pride. These are the similarities between the culture and ethics of beliefs and religions and national culture.

Most religious people have patriotic spirit and have contributed to the resistance wars against foreign invaders and the national construction. For the common goal, it is necessary to combine the development of the country and the specific interests of religious people in both material and spiritual lives, especially the religious life.

Promoting the similarities toward the common goal of national renewal will raise the potential strength of religious people, consolidate the great national unity and successfully implement socio-economic tasks and conduct religious practices in the interest of the nation.

Fourthly, all believers are free to practice their religions at home and lawful worship places prescribed by law.

The religious organizations recognized by the State are entitled to operate under the law and be protected by law, to conduct religious activities, to open training schools for dignitaries and monks, to publish religious books and to maintain and repair their worship places.

Religious engagement and religious missionaries must comply with the Constitution and laws. It is prohibited to conduct religious propaganda for evil cult or to conduct superstitious activities or to force people to follow a religion.

The Political Report of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee at the XIth National Congress (January 2011) affirmed: “Continue to improve policies and laws on belief and religion in accordance with the Party’s viewpoints. To promote cultural values and good morals of religions, encourage religious organizations, dignitaries and believers to adopt a good religion and good life and positively contribute to the national construction and defense. The State takes care and creates favorable conditions for activities of religious organizations in accordance with their charters recognized by the State and as prescribed by law. Actively prevent and resolutely fight acts of taking advantage of the freedom of belief and religion to fascinate and divide people or to undermine the great national unity.

Law on belief and religion

On June 18, 2004, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly adopted the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions which took effect on November 15, 2004. Following this Ordinance, the Government issued Decree No. 22/2005/ND-CP guiding its implementation. Later, the Prime Minister issued Directive No. 01/2005/CT-TTg on a number of tasks related to Protestantism, and Directive No. 1940/CT-TTg on land and housing related to religion.

These legal documents are related directly to religious activities, express the consistent policy of the State on religion and create a legal basis to ensure freedom of religion. They clearly identify the responsibilities of state authorities in charge of religious affairs, and rights and obligations of religious organizations in Vietnam.

Other legal documents regulating some matters of religious activities include the Civil Code, the Penal Code, the Law on Marriage and Family, the Law on Residence, the Land Law, the Law on Construction, etc.

Principles of the law on belief and religion

The principles of the law on belief and religion are the overall guidelines of the State on beliefs, religions and religious affairs, which are enshrined in Article 70 of the 1992 Constitution and the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions as follows:

Citizens have the right to freedom of belief and religion, and may follow or not follow any religion.  The State respects and guarantees citizens’ right to belief and religious freedom.

Religious dignitaries, priests, monks and people are entitled to all civic rights and have to perform civic obligations.

Citizens, whether they have beliefs or follow religions or not, as well as citizens who have different beliefs or follow different religions must respect one another.

All religions are equal before law.

Lawful worship places, prayer books and worshiping assets for religious activities are protected by law. 

The State guarantees citizens’ right to belief and religious freedom; respects and promotes positive values of the tradition of ancestral worship, commemoration and honoring of the persons with great contributions to the country or communities

It is prohibited to practice discrimination based on belief or religion, to force people to follow or not to follow religion, infringing the freedom of religion of citizens; to take advantage of the freedom of religion for activities contrary to religious purposes, undermining the great national unity or carrying out superstitious activities.

Main contents of the legal documents on belief and religion

The Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions institutionalizes the State’s guidelines and policies on beliefs and religions, serving as a legal basis for citizens to exercise the right to freedom of belief and religion while contributing to improving the state management of religious affairs.

Specifically, the Ordinance stipulates belief activities of believers and religious activities of followers, priests, monks and dignitaries; religious organizations and their operations and assets.

The Ordinance has some new points compared to the previous regulations on religious activities, such as recognition of religious organizations to ensure the right to religious activities under the law; division, separation, merger, consolidation of affiliate religious organizations; conversion of citizens; internal activities of the religions; activities of religious associations, monasteries and other religious organizations; religious activities of foreign dignitaries, priests and monks and religious activities of foreigners in Vietnam, etc.

The Ordinance regulates not only religious activities but also belief activities. Unlike religious activities, belief activities do not have organizations from central to local level, but they attract the participation of large numbers of people.

Types of belief activities are very diverse such as ancestor worship at home, Hung King worship, or worshiping those who made great contributions to the nation and the communities. These activities take place in all regions of the country, especially in the provinces in the northern midland region. The State respects and encourages sound belief activities which promote humanity values ​​and national cultural traditions and meet spiritual needs of the population. The State forbids all activities abusing the freedom of belief for superstitious or self-seeking purposes or violating the law.

Decree No 22/2005/ND-CP was issued on March 1, 2005, guiding the implementation of a number of articles of the Ordinances on Belief and Religions.

The decree details the Ordinance’s provisions on belief festivals and religious organizations.

Regarding religious organizations, it stipulates the registration, establishment, division, separation, merger or consolidation of affiliate religious organizations; registration of operations of religious orders, monasteries and other collective religious practice organizations; establishment and consolidation of religious schools for religious professionals,  ordainment, bestowal of orders, appointment, election or honorary nomination or change of areas of operation of religious dignitaries, priests or monks.

As for religious activities, the decree contains detailed provisions on annual registration of religious activities, religious events outside registered annual programs, registration of believers, registration for religious organizations’ conferences at different levels, religious rites and religion preaching or teaching by dignitaries, priests and monks outside their religious establishments.

Directive No. 01/2005/CT-TTg on some tasks related to Protestantism was issued by the Prime Minister on February 4, 2008. This document clearly states the viewpoint of the State on the need of a section of the population to follow Protestantism and some steps and measures to normalize the joining of Protestantism by some people in Central Highlands provinces, Binh Phuoc province and some northern mountainous provinces. It also deals with activities of some Protestantism sects that have not been recognized and puts religious activities of Protestants in these areas under the law, thus contributing to fighting evil forces that take advantage of Protestantism to distort the religious policy of the State, causing disunity within the people.

Issued on December 31, 2008, Directive No. 1940/CT-TTg on land and housing related to religion reaffirms the correctness of the law of Vietnam on the issue of housing and land as well as consistent policy to respect and ensure freedom of religion under the law and the legitimate needs of religious organizations and believers for land and housing for legitimate religious purposes. The Directive instructs ministries, central agencies and provincial-level People’s Committees to improve the management of land and housing related to religion; review the master plan on management and use of land and housing and promptly settle related problems to ensure harmony between religious and national interests.

State authorities at different levels have cared for and responded to part of the land use demand of religious establishments, but there still exist some complicated issues which are attributable to the following causes:

Thanks to the national renewal and international integration, the material and spiritual lives of the whole population in general and of religious people in particular have been improved. With the implementation of the policy on belief and religion, the numbers of religious believers and recognized religious organizations have increased, which poses the need for land to be used for religious purposes. However, most provinces lack land areas for religious purposes, while the land law does not allow religious establishments to receive, transfer or donate the land use rights, causing difficulties to these establishments in acquiring land for building and upgrading worship facilities to meet the needs of religious and related activities. As a result, religious organizations or individuals have mobilized religious believers or people to illegally transfer the land for religious purposes.

The legal system in general and the law on land and housing related to religion in particular, have changed a lot through different historical periods and still have many difficulties in the process of development. Due to lack of awareness, the implementation of the policies and laws on belief and religion and on land and housing related to religion by competent authorities remains passive and inconsistent. 

The people in general and religious dignitaries and believers in particular do not understand deeply the legal provisions on land, especially land related to religion, leading to confusion and mistakes when completing administrative procedures for land use and construction.

In summary, after more than 20 years’ implementing the new policy on belief and religion, especially in the early 21st century, the religious situation in Vietnam has seen positive changes. Traditional activities of religious believers are respected and guaranteed in families and worship places (with dignitaries, books and religious supplies). Dignitaries are active in religious activities under their charge. The State has normalized organizational activities of some religious organizations such as Cao Dai, Hoa Hao Buddhism and Protestantism, and allowed religious organizations to open schools and ordain and appoint dignitaries. In the last 10 years alone, nearly 2,000 religious publications have been published with some 40 million copies. Worship places have been rebuilt, repaired or newly built. International activities of religions have developed. Especially, the relationship between the State of Vietnam and Vatican has developed positively.

It can be affirmed that the implementation of the new policy on religion over the years has enabled the restoration of religious activities in all aspects, creating a new look of religious life in Vietnam. Followers and dignitaries have believed in the State’s policy and supported and actively participated in the cause of national renewal. As a result, the image of Vietnam to the international community has been enhanced, making important contributions to foreign-relation activities of Vietnam in the context of international integration.-

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