Laws, not diktats, will govern the actions of the faithful, says state's watchdog Beijing is revamping its religious policy, moving from control by diktat to the rule of law to curb arbitrary interference by the state and give religious groups more autonomy, a senior official says. Zhang Xunmou , director of the Religious Affairs Bureau's policy and legal department, said the old way of issuing a 'document with a vermillion letterhead' - an administrative order - to run religious affairs was over. Officials would now have to abide by rules setting clear limits on their powers and subject themselves to supervision, he said. They could even face legal action if found to be abusing their authority. The new policy put the 'administrator' and the 'administrated' on the same footing, each with its own rights and obligations, he said. 'This is a paradigm shift,' he added. Speaking at a two-day international conference on religions and law that ended in Beijing yesterday, Mr Zhang said limiting state authority over religious affairs was a revolutionary concept because throughout Chinese history the secular state, unlike in Europe, had never had to share its supremacy with religious power or influence. Over the centuries, China had developed secular institutions for regulating religious affairs and conferring legitimacy on religious groups. In the 19th century, Christian churches were seen as collaborating with western powers to challenge the Chinese state and Mr Zhang said historical grievances still coloured policies on religion, as expressed in the 'Three Self' principles - self-administration, self-support and self-propagation. However, he said these principles were a reaction to the power of the foreign churches in China and were not directed against religion itself. Provisions on religion can be found in the constitution, the criminal and civil law codes, and an assortment of administrative orders. Mr Zhang said a 'comprehensive law on religion' was being considered, but he did not elaborate on progress towards it. Legislative initiatives would emphasise the need to strengthen the self-governing and self-policing of religious groups. 'This conforms to the general trend of reducing the government's administrative costs,' he said. Under the market economy, some temples in affluent coastal provinces had prospered and amassed considerable assets, and Mr Zhang said rules on taxing religious groups would be drafted so the levies would become a regular part of local fiscal revenues. It is widely recognised that existing laws and regulations are proving inadequate to cope with issues involving religious groups after more than two decades of reform and opening up. Jin Ze , deputy director of the Institute on World Religions, said one area that needed to be addressed was the status of folk religions, whose growth in some provinces had vastly outpaced that of the five recognised religions - Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Chinese legal scholars have called for a redefinition of folk religions so legitimate activities of the fast-growing groups can be regulated. Peking University professor Zhang Qianfan said that although the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, only religions recognised by the state enjoyed rights. The separation of state and religion was not clear-cut, as religious associations were mostly funded by the state and religious groups often received subsidies, he said.