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VIETNAM | Sunday, 8 January 2006 | Views [512]

Religious "Freedom" and Discrimination

Part of some agreement between the
US and the new Communist government
after the war was that the new
Viet Nam
must have religious freedom.
The government says there is today, but on the street one can see
there is not.
Viet Nam
is a place where one cannot openly spread one's faith, no
matter what it is: Buddhist, Cao Daist, Christian, Confucianist,
anything.  I met a couple of people over here who are Christians,
so this is a subject that interests them very much.  They tell
me that the only Bibles allowed are government "approved" Bibles in a
very archaic Vietnamese that the people can't understand, kind of like
the English King James version that many people can't comprehend.
Also, because of government censorship, no religious group is allowed
to openly promote their faith - for instance, a protestant church in
Ho Chi Minh city had a quarter page ad in the English language
newspaper for the last few years and it was never a problem, but when
the church became big enough that the government took notice, they
were forced to shut down.  There also used to be a Catholic seminary
here in
, but it was shut down, and now no religious affiliation
can have a school above primary level.  So the spreading of any faith
must be done with much discretion.

Interestingly enough, Western English teachers in
Viet Nam
can, however,
present a religious lesson - such as the Easter or Christmas stories -
in class because it is a part of American and Western culture.  Then if
students ask questions later, they can explain things better.  It's a
quite pleasant way to spread one's faith, and if a student doesn't
want to know more, then at least they have an interesting lesson on
Western culture.  It's a win-win situation.

There's also the issue of discrimination against ethnic minority
groups from the Central Highlands.  They are still persecuted today by
the Vietnamese ethnicity and aren't allowed to be in the same
classes with Vietnamese students at the Universities.  The schools in
their home provinces in the
aren't the quality
of the city schools, and since they would never pass the college
entrance exams, a few are placed in the Universities by the government
(sort of an affirmative action policy).  In a further attempt to keep
the ethnic minority groups down, Westerners aren't even allowed into
the area, supposedly in order to keep them uneducated about Western ideas.

There is one form of Western culture that is thriving in the
, however.  In the early 1900s during the French
colonization, American Protestant missionaries went into the

to spread Christianity.  In just 100 years, the ethnic minority
population of protestant Christians has risen from 20% in the 1900s to
70% today.

I was fortunate enough to meet three minority students today and
I'm told I probably will never meet another minority student again
unless I teach here.  We didn't talk about anything sensitive while
they were here, but later I was told that they are treated
terribly by other students and even their teachers.  But they are
wonderful, bright students, and two of them spoke English incredibly
well considering the type of education they've recieved.  You or I
would never be able to pick out an ethnic minoity walking down the
street, but unfortuately the Vietnamese can and many times they aren't
the kindest about it.  It's one of the many things this country still needs to work
on.  Equality may not happen in the timeframe we Westerners want to see, but I believe it will happen in their time. 

Tags: culture, vietnam

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