Carrie Lam

Carrie Lam apologises for ‘misunderstanding’ on proposed religious affairs unit

The former chief secretary said she would not pursue the idea of setting up a religious affairs unit under the Home Affairs Bureau if she is elected

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 March, 2017, 5:15pm

Chief executive candidate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has apologised for causing a misunderstanding over the city’s religious freedom after backtracking on a proposal to set up a religious affairs unit in the government.

“The original purpose [of the proposal] was solely to support the activities and development of the religious sector. Unfortunately, this has lead to some misunderstanding, especially from some religious institutions who were concerned that it meant the government had changed its policy on religious freedom,” Lam said in a video posted on her Facebook page on Saturday night.

Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Carrie Lam makes U-turn on proposed religious affairs unit

“To this end, I have immediately made a clarification ... to apologise to everyone,” Lam said.

The former chief secretary clarified that she would not pursue the idea of setting up a religious affairs unit under the Home Affairs Bureau or commence any studies within the government if she was elected.

Lam’s apology came after the city’s top bishop Cardinal John Tong Hon urged her to remove the idea from her manifesto as it could give people the impression that the government was directing and controlling religions, and could lead to unnecessary confusion and conflict in society.

Lam, who is a devout Catholic, said that she had written to Tong to clarify her position and explain her decision.

John Tsang Chun-wah, Lam’s arch rival in the chief executive election, disagreed with Lam’s proposal to set up the religious unit.

“Each religion has their own blueprint for development, their own history and their own views, so autonomy is very important [to them],” Tsang commented on Lam’s move at a separate event on Saturday.

Carrie Lam seeks to quell concerns over proposed religious affairs unit

Lam’s video, a weekly roundup of her campaign activities, also touched on why she had walked away from a group of angry protesters on Friday.

“I have always been willing to communicate with people who hold different views. However, the scene at one recent activity was too chaotic. Under the advice of security personnel, I was unable to receive their petition in order to reduce the chances of people getting hurt,” Lam said.

Protesters from the grassroots community and pro-workers’ groups were upset that Lam had exited through a back door without taking their petition letters after attending a forum on social welfare policies.

She added that she hoped there would be more “peaceful” opportunities for more dialogue with the public in the future.