On 12 September 2016, the Vietnamese Embassy in the United States and the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) facilitated a dialogue in Washington D.C. between a government delegation from Vietnam, the U.S. Department of State, and American faith leaders. During the dialogue, participants exchanged views on the Vietnamese government’s religion policy and draft law on religion.

The dialogue was hosted by Vietnam’s Ambassador to the United States, Pham Quang Vinh, and the Vietnamese Embassy. The Vietnamese delegation consisted of Vietnamese faith leaders and government officials who work on religious affairs. Government organizations included the Governmental Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Public Security. Vietnamese faith leaders included representatives from the Buddhist, Catholic, Cao Dai, Mormon, and Protestant faiths.

U.S. faith leaders included representatives from Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Scientology, and Mormon faiths. The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, David Saperstein, also participated in the dialogue. During the meeting, American faith leaders took the opportunity to express support for stronger bilateral relations between the United States and Vietnam and encouraged the Vietnamese government to improve religious freedom and human rights. Faith leaders inquired about the progress of the draft religion law, how it would be implemented, and what role civil society would have under this new law.

Led by Mr. Bui Thanh Ha, CRA vice chairman, the Vietnamese delegation sought to continue the conversation initiated at the July 2015 meeting between American faith leaders and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, during his Washington, D.C. visit. Mr. Ha shared that the draft law, if passed by the National Assembly in October, would promote and encourage social service activities of religious organizations in fields such as education and health care. He also mentioned that there would be a plan to educate officials on the new law and provide opportunities for dialogues between faith communities and local authorities.

IGE continues to work closely with policymakers and religious leaders in Vietnam as we seek to support the country’s efforts to examine their own policies related to freedom of conscience and practice. This month, IGE and its academic partners Brigham Young University and Vietnam National University’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities will conduct the 8th Religion and Rule of Law (R&ROL) conference in Hanoi and facilitate the fifth R&ROL certificate training program in the Northwest Highlands. This one-week training program will address good governance and religion for local officials and faith leaders in the Lao Cai province. This will be the first-ever certificate program of this kind held at the district and provincial level. The R&ROL training series serves the long-term goal of building solid scholarship and consensus around religious freedom for people of all faiths and none in Vietnam.

About the Institute for Global Engagement – The Institute for Global Engagement works at the critical intersection of religion and global affairs, building sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide. Through local partnerships, IGE works transparently to convene, connect, and build consensus among government, religious leaders, and scholars to ensure that people of all faiths and none have full freedom of conscience and can participate as equal citizens in public life. To learn more about IGE’s work in Vietnam, please contact Hien Vu at hvu@globalengage.org.