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 based on “nonsubordination, noninterference, and mutual respect.” The Basic Law states residents have freedom of conscience; freedom of religious belief; and freedom to preach, conduct, and participate in religious activities in public. The Basic Law also states the government cannot interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations or restrict religious activities which do not contravene other laws.
The Bill of Rights Ordinance incorporates the religious freedom protections of the ICCPR. 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 Bill of Rights Ordinance states that persons belonging to ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities have the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their own religion, and use their own language. 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.” These rights may be limited when an emergency is proclaimed and “manifestation” of religious beliefs may be limited by law when necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the rights of others. Such limitations may not discriminate solely on the basis of religion.
Religious groups are exempt from the legal requirement that NGOs register with the government. Religious groups are only required to register if they seek government benefits, such as tax-exempt status, rent subsidies, government or other professional development training, the use of government facilities, or a grant to provide social services. Applicants for registration must provide the name and purpose of the organization, identify its office-holders, and confirm the address of the principal place of business and any other premises owned or occupied by the organization. Religious groups may register as a society or tax-exempt organization as long as they have at least three members who hold valid HKSAR identity documents; the registration process normally takes about 12 working days. Falun Gong is not classified as a religious group under the law and must register if the group wishes to establish offices, collect dues from members, or have legal status.
The Basic Law allows private schools to provide religious education. The government offers funding to cover 90 percent of the budget of schools built and run by religious groups, should they seek such support. Government subsidized schools may not bar students based on religion, but they may provide religious instruction as part of their curriculum, which may be mandatory for all students. Teachers, however, may not discriminate against students on account of their religious beliefs. The public school curriculum mandates coursework on ethics and religious studies, with a focus on religious tolerance; the government’s curriculum also includes elective modules on different world religions.
Religious groups may apply to the government to lease land at concessionary terms through Home Affairs Bureau sponsorship. Religious groups may apply to develop or use facilities in accordance with local legislation.
The only direct government role in managing religious affairs is the Chinese Temples Committee, led by the secretary for home affairs. The HKSAR Chief Executive appoints its members. The committee oversees the management and logistical operations of 24 of the region’s 600 temples and provides grants to other charitable organizations. The committee also provides grants to the Home Affairs Bureau for eventual disbursement as financial assistance to needy ethnic Chinese citizens. The colonial-era law does not require new temples to register.
Procedures under the current law have resulted in the six largest religious groups in the HKSAR holding 60 seats on the approximately 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, the Chinese Muslim Cultural and Fraternal Association, the Hong Kong Christian Council (which represents Protestant denominations), the Hong Kong Taoist Association, the Confucian Academy, and the Hong Kong Buddhist Association. Many of these groups hold their own internal elections to determine which member(s) will hold seats on the election committee.