Executive Summary

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The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) grants residents freedom of religious belief, freedom to preach and participate in religious activities in public, and freedom to pursue religious education. The law also protects the right of religious assembly and the rights of religious organizations to administer schools, hospitals, and welfare institutions and to provide other social services. The law states the government does not recognize a state religion and explicitly states all religious denominations are equal before the law. The law stipulates religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. Falun Gong continued to hold rallies, including protesting the visit of a high-ranking Communist Party official from the Mainland, but reported difficulty renting venues for events.

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, continued to provide diverse social services to anyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

The staff of the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau stressed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all religious groups, and they discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland and in Hong Kong, in meetings with Macau SAR government officials and civil society representatives.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 602,000 (July 2017 estimate). The SAR Government Information Bureau reports nearly 80 percent of the population practices Buddhism. There are approximately 30,000 Roman Catholics, of whom more than half are foreign domestic workers and other expatriates, and more than 8,000 Protestants. Protestant denominations include the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian Churches. Evangelical Christian and independent local nondenominational churches, some of which are affiliated with Mainland churches, are also present. Muslim groups estimate there are approximately 12,000 Muslims. Smaller religious groups include Bahais, who estimate their membership at above 2,000, and Falun Gong practitioners, who estimate their membership at 50 persons.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Macau Basic Law states residents have freedom of religious belief and the freedom to publicly preach as well as conduct and participate in religious activities. These rights may be limited in extreme situations for national security reasons. The Basic Law further stipulates that the government shall not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups or in their relations with their counterparts outside Macau. It bars the government from restricting religious activities that do not contravene the laws of the Macau 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.

The law 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.

Religious groups are not required to register in order to conduct religious activities, but registration enables them to benefit from legal status. Religious groups register with the Identification Bureau, providing 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. To receive tax-exempt status or other advantages, religious groups register as charities with the Identification Bureau by submitting the same information and documents as are required to register.

The law 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 under the law. No religious education is required in public schools.

By law, religious groups may develop and maintain relations with religious groups abroad. The Catholic Church in Macau, in communion with the Holy See, recognizes the pope as its head. The Vatican appoints the bishop for the diocese.

Government Practices

Falun Gong members continued to hold rallies and set up informational sites at public venues without incident. For example, a Falun Gong-related civil society organization reported that in May, Falun Gong members participated in a public rally during a visit from Zhang Dejiang; one of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee members, for what they said was his role in persecuting Falun Gong members on the Mainland. Falun Gong practitioners, however, reported difficulty renting venues for large events, a situation they suspected was a result of Communist Party pressure.

Some religious groups reported the Central Government Liaison Office supported their activities and exchanges with coreligionists on the Mainland. Others said the government acknowledged and did not obstruct charity work conducted on the Mainland. Religious groups said they retained their ability to conduct activities on the Mainland by working through official channels and officially recognized churches.

The Catholic Diocese of Macau continued to run most educational institutions, only 10 of 77 schools were public, according to government statistics from the 2016-17 school year.

The government provided financial support, regardless of religious affiliation, for the establishment of schools, child-care centers, clinics, homes for the elderly, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training centers run by religious groups. The government also continued to refer victims of human trafficking to religious organizations for the provision of support services.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Many religious groups, including Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Bahais, provided social services to individuals of all faiths.

There were reports Mainland students were no longer able to attend local seminaries.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. consulate general officials, including the Consul General, stressed the importance of religious diversity and discussed religious communities’ relations with their coreligionists on the Mainland in meetings with Macau SAR officials and civil society interlocutors, including the Catholic Bishop of Macau, a Catholic nongovernmental organization, Muslim organizations, and Protestant clergy.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future