Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam makes U-turn on proposed religious affairs unit
She says she will not pursue idea any further after Catholic diocese voiced ‘resolute opposition’
Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has backtracked on a proposal in her election manifesto to set up a religious affairs unit after the “resolute opposition” expressed by the local Catholic diocese which fears restrictions over religious freedom.
Responding to the worries by the city’s top bishop Cardinal John Tong Hon on Friday, Lam, a devout Catholic, said she would not further pursue the idea of setting up a religious affairs unit under the Home Affairs Bureau or commence any examination within the government if she was elected the chief executive “to avoid any unnecessary misunderstandings in society and among religious bodies in particular”.
Lam’s remarks came a day after Tong urged her in a letter to remove the idea from her manifesto as it could give people an impression that the government was directing and controlling religions, and could lead to unnecessary confusion and conflict in society.
Tong also said government officials have sufficient channels to contact religious groups directly, without any need to have a religious affairs unit or a related department.
Lam, who previously said that she decided to join the race for the top job in response to God’s calling, said she “fully” recognised the importance of religions, and under Article 32 of the Basic Law, Hongkongers were entitled to freedom of religious belief and to preach.
She said her idea of a religious affairs unit was intended to help and facilitate religious activities in the city, with “absolutely no intention” to place restrictions over religions.
“I am sorry for the misimpression and misconception that this idea has caused,” Lam said, adding that her idea had stemmed from a meeting with some religious subsector election committee members who shared with her their difficulties in receiving coordinated support from the government in dealing with the development of their religion.
The proposal for the unit stated an aim to “coordinate relevant policies”, and that there would be a “review” of land rental policies for religious land use.
It also drew disapproval from Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, a key Christian critic and former chairman of the Christian Council, who expressed fears that Hong Kong may follow in the mainland’s footsteps in controlling religious activities.
Lam scored only one nomination from an Christian elector.