The Macau Basic Law states, “Macau residents shall have freedom of religious belief, and freedom to preach and to conduct and participate in religious activities in public.” These rights may be limited for national security reasons in extreme situations. The Basic Law further stipulates that the government shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups or in the relations religious groups maintain with counterparts outside Macau. It bars the government from restricting religious activities that do not contravene the laws of the SAR.
Under the Basic Law, the government of the Macau SAR, rather than the central government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is charged with safeguarding religious freedom in the SAR. Religious groups coordinate their relations with coreligionists in the PRC through the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO). The CGLO also engages in dialogue with religious groups in the SAR.
The Basic Law’s provisions for the protection of religious freedom are further delineated in the Freedom of Religion and Worship Law, which states the Macau SAR government does not recognize a state religion and stipulates all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law further provides for freedom of religion, including privacy of religious belief, freedom of religious assembly, freedom to hold religious processions, and freedom of religious education. The law specifically guarantees religious organizations may run seminaries and schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and provide other social services. Schools run by religious organizations may provide religious education. The law also guarantees religious organizations the right to acquire, use, dispose of, and inherit property.
The law allows religious groups to register directly with the Identification Bureau. Applicants must supply their names, identification card numbers, and contact information, as well as the group’s name and a copy of the group’s charter to register. Registration is not required to conduct religious activities, and it does not automatically confer tax-exempt status or other advantages, though several religious groups reported they had tax exemptions for land use and business operation, enabling them to afford to fund charity work and operate schools.
The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. The local Catholic Church, in communion with the Holy See, recognizes the pope as its head. The Vatican appoints the bishop for the diocese.