IGE co-sponsored two religious freedom training seminars in the Northwest region of Vietnam on October 17-22. The two seminars, held in Bac Kan and Tuyen Quang provinces, gathered 284 Protestant leaders, mostly ethnic minorities (Hmong, Tay, Dao and Nung groups) to learn about their religious rights. A number of Protestant leaders are also village head, commune policemen, and Communist party members. During the two-and-a-half day seminar, participants in each province learned about the government’s policies on religion and the encouragement on national unity among all ethnicities. The seminars focused on the church/meeting point registration process and the benefits and responsibilities of registered churches.Participants had the opportunity to interact with government officials who work on religious affairs at the national and provincial level through the question and answer (Q&A) session. The Q&A session allowed participants to speak candidly and constructively about their grievances and provided opportunity for them to request for more support from officials. The dialogue helped officials better understand the spiritual needs of religious leaders and their faith community. National and provincial officials enthusiastically addressed all the questions raised at the seminars.

At the seminar in Tuyen Quang province, Dao Thanh Bao, a 20-year-old participant, a church youth leader from Linh Phu commune, Chiem Hoa district said, “The seminar and seminar materials gave me more knowledge about the government’s policies on religion, especially on church registration. This will help me work with my commune’s officials about issues related to my church.”

Each participant received a manual on the “Legal Documents on Religion and Belief.” The manual provides detailed information on the religious freedom policies of the Vietnamese Government: the National Assembly Standing Committee’s 2004 ordinance on religion and belief, the government’s decree on guidelines to implement the 2004 ordinance, and the Prime Minister’s 2005 decree 01 on tasks regarding Protestantism.

These seminars are the second round of collaboration between IGE and the Vietnamese Government’s Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA) on religious freedom seminars. CRA oversees all religious activities and advises their government on policies on religion. The first round of seminars took place in October 2010. Besides seminars that were jointly conducted, CRA has also invited IGE to observe similar seminars conducted by CRA in the Northwest and Central highlands.

CRA and IGE will conduct another seminar in the Northwest province of Dien Bien on November 7-9.

A segment of the Bac Kan training seminar aired on Bac Kan TV News, you can watch the segment on YouTube.

In Laos, IGE conducted district level Religious Freedom Seminar trainings in the Sekong and Vientiane Provinces in partnership with the Lao Front for National Construction. These seminars trained 478 government and religious leaders. Since the start of IGE’s seminars in January 2010, 1251 government and religious leaders have been trained on relationship-building and the implications of the Lao constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.

Also, Dr. Stephen Bailey is preparing for his trip to Laos in December 2011. Dr. Bailey will be travelling to Laos to observe future IGE seminars and meet with government and religious leaders in Laos. He will also be evaluating the religious situation in Laos and the impact of IGE’s Religious Freedom Seminars.