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Merit money at Vietnam religious facilities not subject to state management: new fiat

Merit money at Vietnam religious facilities not subject to state management: new fiat

Saturday, January 28, 2023, 16:05 GMT+7
Merit money at Vietnam religious facilities not subject to state management: new fiat
This image shows a woman putting merit money into a container on an altar at Bai Dinh Pagoda in Ninh Binh Province, northern Vietnam. Photo: Thien Dieu / Tuoi Tre

Merit money donated to religious establishments, whether they are located in classified or listed relic sites, is not subject to state management but it is under control by those facilities themselves, according to a new rule included in a circular recently issued by Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance.

The circular, which ‘guides the management of financial revenue and expenditure for festival organization and merit money, funding for monuments and festival activities,’ was promulgated on January 19, 2023 after its draft version was released to the public for feedback in 2021. 

Under the new rule, which will take effect on March 19 this year, representatives of belief and religious establishments will be responsible for the management and use of merit money voluntarily donated to them by individuals and organizations during their visits to such places of worship.

This regulation, which is in contrary to the previous one in the draft version, is applied to every religious and belief facility, whether they are located in relic areas under state management or those belonging to private ownership.

If a belief or religious establishment is located within a relic site that is put under the management of a public non-business unit, then such a facility is required to pay that unit a part of the cost related to its repair, maintenance, renovation, upgrade or new constructions, if any, in addition to expenses for the maintenance of security and order, environmental sanitation, and others.

In the event that the relic area belongs to private ownership, then the owner of the relic will be entitled to manage and use merit money collected from relevant belief or religious facilities.

In April 2021, the ministry introduced the draft version of the circular including a rule putting merit money at belief and religious facilities under state management.

A woman is shown putting merit money into a box at Quan Su Pagoda in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Thien Dieu/ Tuoi Tre

A woman is shown putting merit money into a box at Quan Su Pagoda in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Thien Dieu/ Tuoi Tre

After the draft document was released for public comment and feedback, the suggested rule encountered strong opposition from the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) and some local churches such as the VBS in Quang Ninh Province.

These religious organizations sent documents to the finance ministry and other ministries and agencies requesting that the state not manage merit money at any religious establishment.

In its written proposal dated June 17, 2021, the VBS commented that such a rule secularized the sacredness of merit money offered by individuals and organizations to belief and religious establishments.

The proposal was sent to the Government Committee for Religion, the Central Committee for Mass Mobilization, the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

The VBS said in its document that the term ‘merit money’ was not defined or explained in the draft circular as well as in any other legal documents of the state.

It commented that putting merit money under state management would not ensure the private ownership of the VBS and Buddhist practitioners as provided for in the Vietnamese Constitution and current legislation. 

The VBS cited provisions in the 2016 Law on Beliefs and Religions and the 2015 Civil Code as affirming that religious organizations have the right to receive and own lawful assets voluntarily offered to them by domestic and foreign organizations and individuals.

The VBS also cited Article 53 of the 2013 Constitution as stipulating that merit money is not ‘public property that is owned by all the people, and represented and uniformly managed by the state.’

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Vinh Tho - Thien Dieu / Tuoi Tre News


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