Friday, July 9, 2004

Hong Kong: Government steals Church influence.

Date: Friday 9 July 2004
Subj: Hong Kong: Government steals Church influence.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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HONG KONG: GOVERNMENT STEALS CHURCH INFLUENCE
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On Tuesday 6 July, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Christian educators in Hong Kong were praying for a miracle. The Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 was due to come before Parliament on 7 July. The SCMP reports, "If it is passed, this Bill will effectively give the Beijing-backed government increased control of Hong Kong's multitudes of Church-owned and run schools. 'We know that the bill will pass with so many pro-government legislators sitting on Legco [Legislative Council],' Bishop Zen said. [Bishop Zen Ze-kiun, Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong.] 'What we are praying for is a miracle. We appeal to the Liberal Party to vote according to their conscience, like they did last time to vote down Article 23'."

On the evening of 6 July, the Catholic Church held a candlelight vigil outside the Legislative Council to pray for that miracle. One Christian leader in Hong Kong explains, "Out of a population of 7 million only 10 percent are members of the Church. But at the same time 50 percent of all schools and 50 percent of all social service programs are run by the Church so there is a great influence especially as the church schools are of very high standard and have
the best reputation. The government wants to change the school system so the government can have more influence."

AsiaNews confirms this, "The Hong Kong [Catholic] diocese runs about 300 elementary schools, high schools and colleges throughout the territory. Diocesan schools are considered to be the top-rated on the island. Hong Kong’s most well known cultural, political and financial leaders have all been educated at these Catholic schools. Hence some experts have said the government move is aimed at halting the Catholic Church’s influence over Hong Kong." (Link 1)

EDUCATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The Education Amendment Bill 2002 went before parliament on 8 July. After thirteen hours of "heated debate", the highly controversial bill was passed, 29 votes in favour, 21 votes against. (Link 2)

The Education Amendment Bill 2002 requires schools to set up Incorporated Management Committees (IMCs), separate legal entities that must include elected teacher and parent representatives, by 2012. Presently, most school management committees are formed by members directly appointed by the School Sponsoring Bodies (SSB). The Bill will reduce the central control and decision making power of the School Sponsoring Bodies. The IMCs will be responsible for evaluating teachers and teaching methods as well as the overall quality and structure of schools themselves. Most seriously, the IMCs will not be obliged to respect the philosophy and mission of the sponsoring bodies.

AsiaNews reports, "According to Bishop Zen and various other education leaders in Hong Kong, the government measure aims to remove SSB authority and strike down its educational proposals and programs. At the same time, they say, the new legislation strengthens government control over schools. In Zen's letter to Legco, the bishop states that government authority will be increased "through decentralizing the School Sponsoring Bodies and radically altering an effective educational system that has gained international admiration". (Link 1)

According to a 9 July SCMP report, "Under the bill, the Education and Manpower Bureau also has the right to appoint members to the committee if it finds problems with the management of a school."

Bishop Zen comments, "Once the bill is passed, there are only two options - to set up an Incorporated Management Committee, or to give over our schools to the government. ... the reason for the government to pass the bill is control [over schools]." (SCMP 6 July)

CHURCHES CONSIDER LEGAL ACTION

AsiaNews reported on 6 July that Bishop Zen was threatening to file a lawsuit against the government for breaching the Basic Law if the Bill were passed. "The Church is set to sue the government because according to Basic Law article 141, religious organisations may continue to run schools according to their previous practices. We must sue the government over this blatant violation." (Link 3)

According to the SCMP 9 July report, "The Anglican church's sponsoring board, the Sheng Kung Hui, said it would not adopt the bill and might take legal action." Timothy Ha Wing-ho, education secretary of the body, is quoted as commenting, "We have established a successful partnership between schools and parents for 150 years."

Education authorities are unmoved by the Church's threat to sue. Department of Justice deputy law draftsman Gilbert Mo Sik-keung responded by pointing out that article 136 of the Basic Law also stipulated that the SAR [Special Administrative Region, i.e. Hong Kong] government "shall, on its own, formulate policies on the development and improvement of education, including policies regarding the educational system and its administration, the language of instruction, the allocation of funds, the examination system, the system of academic awards and the recognition of educational qualifications". Mo said the intention of the Basic Law's article 141 does not necessarily mean any change or reform in the education system must be prohibited. (Link 4)

AsiaNews reports (9 July), "Many School Sponsoring Bodies, particularly Christian SSBs (Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist), have repeatedly said that existing legal practices and school policies offer sufficient guarantee for transparency and participation in school management. Many Catholic educators along with Bishop Zen believe that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce the autonomy of the SBs thus threatening Catholic education itself." (Link 5)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) 22 May 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
Government tries to push Church out of schools
Bishop Joseph Zen writes a letter to Hong Kong’s Parliament
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=838

2) School reform bill passed after heated debate
Eddie Luk. 9 July 2004
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/09/content_346863.htm

3) 6 July 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
Catholic Church set to sue the government over education
The Education Bill breaches the Basic Law and Church freedom
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1099

4) Legal threat of church dismissed
Eddie Luk. 7 July 2004
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/07/content_346123.htm

5) 8 July, 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
New Education Bill Adopted
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1115