China Targets Religion in Updated Rules for Communist Party Members

August 27, 2018 Updated: August 27, 2018

BEIJING—The Chinese Communist Party has issued a revised set of regulations governing members’ behavior, threatening punishment for spreading political rumors and recommending that those who hold religious beliefs “should be encouraged” to leave the Party.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s crackdown against deep-rooted corruption, begun six years ago when he took office, has shaken up the Party. Xi has warned, like other leaders before him, that the Party’s very survival is at stake.

Xi, who has accumulated more power than any of his immediate predecessors, has intensified efforts to ensure cadres are loyal, disciplined, upright, and honest.

The updated rules put into written form many orders that are in practice already. The regulations were released on Aug. 26 by the graft watchdog Central Commission for Discipline Inspection but took effect as of Aug. 18,

In the most serious cases where a law has been broken, party members can be prosecuted, but in many cases, the most severe punishment that can be meted out is expulsion from the Party.

Party members aren’t allowed to speak out against central party policies or decisions, and can’t spread “political rumors or damage the Party’s unity,” the new rules say.

Another new clause takes aim at party members who are religious. Though the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the Party is officially atheist and party members are supposed to comply. Meanwhile, many religious minorities in China are still persecuted for their faith, such as house Christians, Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims, and practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual group.

“Party members who have religious beliefs should have strengthened thought education. If they still don’t change after help and education from the party organization, they should be encouraged to leave the party,” the new rules say.

Those who attend “activities that use religion for incitement” will be expelled, according to the rules.

By Ben Blanchard