Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam seeks to quell concerns over proposed religious affairs unit

Some members of the religious community had expressed fears that proposed body would seek to control religion in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 9:04am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 11:52am

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has sought to defend her proposal to set up a new religious affairs unit, as concerns grew that it may be an attempt to control or supervise ­religious activities in Hong Kong.

The controversy stemmed from the manifesto of the front runner in the chief executive election, in which she proposed setting up a new unit under the Home Affairs Bureau to “coordinate relevant policies”.

In the next paragraph, she stated there would be a “review” of land rental policies for religious land use.

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Post, Lam, a devout Catholic, stressed that the Basic Law ­ensured the protection of religious freedom.

“[The proposal] generated a bit of anxiety among religious groups, especially ... among Catholics and Protestants,” Lam conceded in the Facebook live section of the interview.

“I want to ... make it clear that there is absolutely nothing about control and regulation of religious activities. Religious freedom is enshrined in the Basic Law,” she added.

But a key Christian critic, Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, a former chairman of the Christian Council, lambasted the idea, expressing fears that Hong Kong may follow in the mainland’s footsteps in controlling religious activities.

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Reacting to Lam’s assurances, Yuen called on her to change the wording of the proposal to clear up any remaining doubts.

“In fact the wording in Lam’s proposal is exactly the same as what’s used by the mainland authorities,” Yuen said. “If there is no hidden agenda, she should simply amend her platform.”

Yuen also questioned the need for religious bodies to be singled out in preferential land policies, saying it would be acceptable as long as the government did not discriminate against them.

He called on Lam to understand Hongkongers’ worries: “Hong Kong is already a society of deep mistrust. We all know how religions struggle on the mainland – how their crosses are demolished.”

Lam, who previously said in a private meeting that she decided to join the race for the top job in response to God’s calling, said she turned to prayer for comfort.

She said she prayed whenever she felt unfairly treated in her job, such as having to deal with protesters, declaring: “Religion has a very important role.”

“On occasions I’m upset – somehow having done so much for the people of Hong Kong [why] I should’ve attracted that sort of protest and resistance.”

Among the Christian and Catholic subsectors in the Election Committee, eight nominated Lam’s arch rival, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah while two nominated former High Court judge Woo Kwok-hing.

Lam scored only one nomination from a Christian elector.