Regulations to “protect” minors from religion reach a new level of absurdity, as churches near schools are forced to close, asked to share lists of youth members.
The Chinese government has declared schools to be church-free zones and is taking steps to enforce its will. Bitter Winter obtained a copy of a document entitled Implementation Plan on the Special Governance of Private Christian Gathering Sites, which was issued by the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of a city in the northern Shanxi Province. The document calls for the “centralized remediation” of religious meeting venues near colleges and universities (remediation being a euphemism for removing the unwanted churches).
Another document, entitled Key Tasks of Phase Three and Division of Labor of Units Directly Under the County Government, issued by the Religious Affairs Bureau of a county in the central Henan Province, stipulates: “All private Christian gathering sites around universities and colleges, as well as on-campus activity sites, are to be shut down in accordance with the law. Criticism and (re)education of participating teachers and students is to be carried out by the school authorities.” Phase Three in the title above refers to a campaign to regulate Christian affairs in rural areas of the county, and it aims to solve problems, identified during research and assessments conducted in earlier phases, apparently by closing churches.
In addition to the private churches mentioned above, the government-approved Three-Self Church has also faced closures due to proximity to schools. Bitter Winter obtained a copy of a “responsibility statement” for shutting down a religious meeting place. The document, issued by the authorities of a county in Henan, states: “This meeting place is an approved site, but because it was too close to a school” it was closed down in August 2018. Government officials responsible for this matter have promised that “there will be no reversal of the decision in the future.”
A Three-Self church meeting place in the southeastern Fujian Province’s Longyan city was also closed down by the authorities due to its proximity to a university. According to personnel from the Religious Affairs Bureau, one of the government’s internal policy documents stipulates that meeting venues cannot be set up near schools. However, at this time, the document remains “confidential,” and the Religious Affairs Bureau has not released it publicly.
According to sources, Religious Affairs Bureau personnel even demanded that the manager of this Three-Self church facility provide a list of university students who attend gatherings. Believers are worried that the government will use the list of students to affect the students’ employment prospects.
The crackdown on religious facilities near schools can be traced to the new Regulations on Religious Affairs. Under these new rules, the Chinese government’s control over the religious faith of minors has reached its highest level since the Cultural Revolution. In addition to forbidding religious facilities near schools, the authorities mandate investigating the beliefs of students and their parents; prohibiting minors from believing in God; and closing Sunday schools.
Meeting venues in the provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, and Shandong have also been closed by the government due to their close proximity to schools or kindergartens. In early August 2018, the Chengyang District Bureau of Education in Shandong Province’s Qingdao city, on the east coast of China, received a complaint that there was a meeting place across from a middle school. Government personnel rushed to the house church meeting venue, demanded that the cross and the Christian signage be removed immediately, and then sealed off and closed the church on the grounds that “meeting places are not allowed near schools.” The pastor was later taken away.
One believer said, “By being so strict in preventing minors from believing in God, the Chinese Communist Party is seeking to sever the roots so that the next generation loses its faith.”
In October 2018, a house church meeting venue in Hebei Province’s Bazhou city near Beijing was also shut down due to its close proximity to a kindergarten.
Religious meeting places are not the only things banned from areas around schools. Any content that is remotely religion-related is prohibited. As Bitter Winter previously reported, the government ordered that a mural of a Buddhist nun be modified due to its close proximity to a school. First, the mural of the nun was transformed into a “young girl” because the image of the nun “affected children’s thinking.” Shortly afterward, this painting was replaced altogether with a mural depicting “family happiness.”
For today’s Chinese authorities, churches alone are not the true danger, but simply the image of religion constitutes a threat. The state seems to be trying to stop the next generation from even conceiving of the idea of religion.
Reported by Feng Gang