In another crackdown on religious freedom, local authorities in an eastern Chinese city ordered parents of kindergarteners to sign a pledge that affirms they are not religious.
Guardians of children at schools in Wenzhou, a city in the Zhejiang province, were asked to sign a “pledge form of commitment for family not to hold a religious belief,” according to the human rights group China Aid.
The pledge states that the parents affirm they “do not hold a religious belief, do not participate in any religious activities, and do not propagate and disseminate religion in any locations.” It also makes them affirm “exemplary observance of the [Chinese Communist] Party discipline and the country’s laws and regulations [and to] never join any Falun Gong and other cult organizations.”
Falun Gong, a religious movement founded in China in the 1990s, is openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
The order came from Chinese Communist Party officials in the Longwan district of the city of Wenzhou, according to ChinaAid. The nonprofit is a Christian human-rights organization that received the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy for its commitment to religious freedom in China in 2019.
The district is home to about 750,000, people. Christians represent about 10% of the city’s population and have grown in number over the past decade. This is much higher than the national average, which is less than 1% Christian.
One preschool teacher anonymously said the local authorities had never gone this far before, ChinaAid reported.
“In the past, the higher-level education department made it compulsory for kindergartens not to be superstitious and not to participate in cult organizations but did not mandate kindergarten children’s families not to believe in religion or participate in any religious activities,” the teacher said.
The Chinese constitution states that citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” but limits religious practices to “normal religious activities,” according to the U.S. Department of State. The Chinese government recognizes five religions, which it calls “patriotic religious associations”: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism, and Catholicism. However, the city and the nation as a whole have repeatedly been accused of violating the rights of those who practice these religions as well.
In Wenzhou, Christians have faced persecution in several ways. The city banned children from attending religious services and engaging in religious activities in 2017. The following year, the city forbade teachers, hospital workers, and other city employees from holding religious beliefs.
The Vatican signed a deal with the Chinese Communist Party in 2018, but much of the deal has remained secret. The deal was meant to unify the underground Catholic Church with the more public Catholic Church in China by allowing the Chinese Communist Party to play a larger role in the appointment of bishops. This ultimately led to crackdowns on Catholics in the underground churches, which resulted in priests, bishops, and even cardinals being detained or arrested.
One of the fiercest critics of the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Catholics is Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was arrested for helping operate the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund to help Hong Kong citizens who protested the Chinese Communist Party. In a 2020 interview with WION, Zen said the Vatican’s deal with China only emboldened the Chinese Communist Party to crack down harder.
“We have only the moral strength to resist peacefully against the persecution,” Zen said. “It’s [important] for us to keep our faith, not to surrender our faith; we can even sacrifice the sacraments — when you are arrested you cannot keep the sacraments but your faith is in your hearts to help you but you cannot deny your faith.”