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The Supremacy of the Constitution, and Freedom of Religion

The Supremacy of the Constitution, and Freedom of Religion
   -- Joint Defence Plea in the Case of Wang Bo, Wang Xinzhong and Liu Shuqin
   By Li Heping, Teng Biao, et. al.

   We are the lawyers Li Heping and Li Xiongbing of the Beijing Globe (Gaobo Longhua) Law Firm, Zhang Lihui and Li Shunzhang of the Beijing Giant & Goal (Guogang) Law Firm, Teng Biao of the Beijing Huayi Law Firm, and Wu Hongwei of the Beijing Humane (Haiming) Law Firm. We were engaged by Ms. Han Lingrong to serve as defence counsel for Han Lingrong's granddaughter, Wang Fu, her son-in-law, Wang Xinzhong, and her daughter, Liu Shuqin. In view of the fact that we share the same client, and that the three defendants are three members of the same family and all are believers in Falun Gong; and given that, moreover, they have been charged and sentenced for the same crime under the same set of facts; and that the defence counsel all acknowledge the extreme importance of religious freedom to politics and morality and in maintaining human freedom and happiness; and in view of defence counsels' hope that consideration of the topic of religious freedom should be shifted from the dangerous and sensitive domains of religion and politics to a more circumspect and rational legal forum; and, moreover, in view of our conviction that the Republic's bank of justice will not be bankrupted by honouring its cheque of Constitutional rights, we submit the following joint defence plea:
   Part One: Reaffirming the universal principles involved in this case
   1) We reaffirm the universal principle of freedom of religion involved in this case
   Taken as a group, human beings are distinguished by society and culture; as individuals, human beings need psychological, emotional and mental solace and a spiritual life. Different living environments, historical opportunity, cultural nurturing and life experience have given rise to different forms of religious faith. We believe that religious freedom is in inalienable right of all human beings, and that it is an important factor in preserving human development and improvement of character. The right to religious beliefs is like the right to life: it is self-evident. The citizen's right to religious freedom was first affirmed in law in the year 313 AD under the Edict of Toleration (Edict of Milan) jointly signed by the Roman rulers Constantine the Great and Licinius I. This edict stipulated for the first time that all religious beliefs enjoyed the same freedom without discrimination. However, humanity underwent extremely arduous struggle and grievous sacrifice until religious freedom was finally established as a universal rule. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly stipulated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
   Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
   In November 1987, the UN General Assembly passed the "Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief," which states in part:
   No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. Freedom to manifest one's religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
   Article 36 of the PRC Constitution also explicitly safeguards religious freedom.
   Religious freedom undoubtedly encompasses three safeguards: First, the principle of religious freedom; that is, the object of a citizen's beliefs, the religion itself, has the right to exist and develop. Second, the principle of freedom of conscience; that is, every citizen is free to choose whether or not to believe in any particular religion, and has the freedom to practice religion or engage in religious activity in whatever form. Third, the principle of separation of church and state; no group, party, organisation or individual, including any religion, can use violence or any other rights-infringing means to interfere with the right of a religion to survive and develop, nor can violence or other rights-infringing means be used to interfere with a citizen's belief in any religion, his freedom to believe or not, or his freedom to practice religion in any form or to participate in religious activities. None of these three are indispensable or inseparable from the others. "Freedom of religious belief," "religious freedom," "freedom of conscience" -- these three phrases are interchangeable in everyday parlance.
   We believe that religious freedom means allowing each individual the freedom to choose among various forms of religious belief, whether a large, established religion or a relatively small and developing religion; whether an existing denomination or a newly-created belief system; whether atheistic, theistic, polytheistic or agnostic. Whether one believes in the "truth, virtue and tolerance" of Falun Gong, or in God or Allah, these beliefs, like those relating to Guan Gong or the Buddhist concept of Emptiness, fall under the religious freedom of which no one can be deprived. At the same time, a citizen's practicing of all forms of religion and participation in all kinds of religious activities is safeguarded within religious freedom; if a citizen is deprived of the freedom to practice religion or participate in religious activities, religious freedom is nothing more than empty words on paper.
   2) We reaffirm the principle of separation of church and state involved in this case
   In world history, in the benighted era before politics became civilised, a complex relationship existed between religion and state power. Some religions were established as orthodox, while others were disparaged as heresies or cults; some were established as state religions, while others suffered brutal suppression and bans; and some religions were simply merged into the ruling regime, with all other religions being exterminated. With the development of political civilisation, freedom of belief was ultimately established. The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom drafted by Thomas Jefferson affirms the inalienable and God-given right to believe any religion without persecution, and asserts that allowing government power to extend into the religious domain will quickly lead to the forfeiture of all freedom of religion and conscience. Jefferson criticised the unification of church and state in history:
   The impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time.
   Jefferson proposed and perfected the theory of separation of church and state, and applied it to practical politics. The separation of church and state means that all religions are equal before the law, and that none are predominant over or subservient to others. It can be divided theoretically into two parts: First is the intrusion of the church into political power; any religion is forbidden to seize secular power through establishment as a state religion. Second is the intrusion of secular power into religion; rulers are forbidden to use the church to interfere in the religious freedom of the people, or to use religious beliefs to increase the political legitimacy and stability of the regime. The posing of the principle of separation of church and state represented a liberation of thought in human history. Its ultimate implementation established a dividing wall between politics and religion. It means that religious belief is a matter of individual choice and free will, that there is no crime in propagating religion, and that no power has the right to interfere in a voluntary act of faith. In the final analysis, it means that people have the freedom to believe in a "cult," or at the very least that they will not be deprived of their personal freedom because of this belief. It can be said that "cults" make up the majority in this world on the basis of the exclusivity of religious doctrines: every denomination and faith proclaims itself to be the one true faith, which by implication reduces the rest to "cults" or "heresies." In the eyes of an atheist, all beliefs in any kind of god are cults.

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