Extremist-Dominated US ‘Religious Freedom’ Commission Targets Vietnam – People’s World

Vietnamese seminarians line up during ceremonies at the Hanoi Catholic Church in Vietnam. | Aaron Favila/AP

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its report for 2022. In this report, USCIRF attacks Vietnam, claiming that religious freedom is not protected there. USCIRF recommends labeling Vietnam a “Country of Special Concern,” or CPC.

As Word of the people reported last year, repeated claims about Vietnam’s lack of religious freedom are baseless allegations used to defame the socialist country. To better understand the situation and the seriousness of the USCIRF suggestion, it is important to understand the history of this commission and its composition.

In 1998, considering itself the world hegemon, the United States government passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which created USCIRF. The new body was empowered to research and report on the state of religious freedom in every country in the world – every country, that is, except the United States, the only country that the United States government in fact has authority over.

USCIRF publishes an annual report and recommends that the US Secretary of State label countries that he believes lack religious freedom as “countries of particular concern.” These countries are then subject to sanctions of various kinds.

From its inception, USCIRF has been criticized as a tool of cultural imperialism. It has also been repeatedly accused of broadcasting a Christian program and of having a specifically anti-Muslim and anti-Hindu bias.

The USCIRF is made up of no less than 10 commissioners, although at the moment there are only nine. Current members include Nadine Maenza and Tony Perkins. Maenza is the president of Patriots Voice, a right-wing conservative Christian nonprofit group founded by former Republican Senator Rick Santorum. Perkins, a fundamentalist Christian, is the head of the anti-LGBTQ hate group “Family Research Council” and is believed to have worked with David Duke, infamous for being a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

It is the body that the US government says has the right to assess and judge the religious freedoms of other countries.

In the USCIRF report on Vietnam, he acknowledges that religious freedom is protected by the Constitution of Vietnam. However, he points to a clause in the constitution that allows certain freedoms to be suspended when national security is threatened, using it as a reason to argue that religious freedom is therefore not really protected in Vietnam.

All countries on Earth have the right to protect their national security. In fact, the United States also suspends religious freedoms in the name of national security. If the Islamic State terrorist group attempted to establish an institution in the United States and recruit new members, it would be considered a threat to national security and its actions would not be protected under religious freedom.

Why does the US hold Vietnam to a different standard than it holds itself? Why is Vietnam being told to sacrifice its security by the United States when the United States would not do the same?

Another part of the USCIRF report highlights a 2018 law passed by Vietnam’s National Assembly that requires religious organizations to register their existence with the government. This law was enacted to protect Vietnamese citizens from scams and abuse. There have been a number of cases where someone claiming to teach one religion or another cheated people out of their savings or brought them into servitude.

The law requiring registration of legitimate religious institutions creates a database where Vietnamese can check whether an organization they are interested in is legitimate or not. There are many religions practiced across Vietnam, from traditional Vietnamese religions to Buddhism, various Christian denominations and Islam. None of these religious groups had any problems with the registration system.

Worshipers attend an afternoon service at the Grand Temple of the Cao Dai religion in Tay Ninh province, west of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The Cao Dai faith has its origins in the 1920s when an obscure French official founded the sect as a means of bringing together Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, as well as the main religions of Vietnam, under one God. The doctrine of the faith also borrows from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and local animism. Despite US government claims of religious repression, followers of the faith openly worship in Vietnam. | Richard Vogel/AP

The report claims that small religions such as Cao Dai are persecuted. Yet anyone can visit Cao Dai temples and the Holy Cao Dai is located in Tay Ninh, Vietnam and practice freely. In fact, the beauty of Cao Dai’s places of worship makes them popular sites for tourists visiting the area.

Given that USCIRF’s claims do not correspond to the reality in Vietnam, and given what is known about USCIRF, its role and its composition, it is clear that the report of this body on religious freedom in Vietnam pushes for a political agenda.

For anyone who has followed the history of the United States over the past century, it becomes clear that the report is the continuation of an old pattern. USCIRF still broadcasts anti-Communist propaganda that claims that Communists and countries ruled by Communist parties are anti-religious. And now they want to threaten the Vietnamese people with sanctions to help spread these lies.

The real crime here is not committed by the Vietnamese government. Rather, it is the cultural imperialism of the United States – a big, rich country – that targets a small socialist country and tries to force it to capitulate and follow its will. You would think the US government would have learned by now that when it tries to bully Vietnam, the venture ends in failure.


Amiad Horowitz

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