The Basic Law and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. Since transferral of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, the Basic Law provides the legal framework for the HKSAR. Under “one country, two systems,” the HKSAR has a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign relations and defense. Under the Basic Law, the HKSAR has autonomy in the management of religious affairs. The Basic Law calls for ties between the region’s religious groups and their mainland counterparts to be based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states that residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public.
The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These protections include the right to manifest religious belief individually or in community with others, in public or private, and through worship, observance, practice, and teaching. The ordinance also protects the right of parents or legal guardians to “ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) functions as a liaison between religious groups and the government. The government invites all interested groups, including affected organizations or individuals, to provide views on whether proposed measures discriminate on the basis of religion.
The only direct government role in managing religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, which the secretary for home affairs leads. The chief executive appoints its members. The committee oversees the management and operations of an estimated 24 of the region’s 600 temples. The colonial-era Chinese Temples Ordinance does not require new temples to register.
Religious groups may apply to the government to lease land at concessionary (less than market value) terms through HAB sponsorship. Religious groups may apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation.
The Election Committee Ordinance stipulates that the six largest religious groups in Hong Kong hold 60 seats on the 1,200-member election committee tasked with nominating and voting for the region’s chief executive. The groups represented are the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, Hong Kong Christian Council (which represents Protestant denominations), Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association.
Religious groups are exempt from the Societies Ordinance, which requires that nongovernmental organizations register. Registration for religious groups is needed only if a group seeks government benefits or receives a grant to provide social services. Spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong are not classified as religious groups and must register under the Societies Ordinance if they wish to establish offices, collect dues from members, or have legal status.
The government offers funding to cover 90 percent of the budget of schools built and run by religious groups, should they seek such support. Subsidized schools may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide religious instruction as part of their curriculum.
The government observes Christmas and the Buddha’s birth as public holidays.