Temples warned against seeking profits in the name of religion

Buddhist and Taoist temples across China have been warned by the government against seeking profits in the name of religion.

Buddhist and Taoist temples across China have been warned by the government against seeking profits in the name of religion.

A guideline to regulate commercial activities in Buddhist and Taoist temples was issued by 12 government departments, including the State Administration of Religious Affairs, the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs, and the Ministry of Public Security.

The document reminds temples of their non-profit nature and forbids any organization or individual from profiting from religious activities.

Although temples are allowed to engage in commercial activities, such as publishing books, or selling religious objects and artworks, such activities should be for maintenance and operation of temples or for charity programs, according a statement from the religious affairs administration.

Commercial activities by Buddhist temples are intended to promote Buddhism in approachable ways and not to make a profit, said Master Xuecheng, president of the Buddhist Association of China.

Li Guangfu, chairman of the China Taoist Association, said it was important for temples to draw a clear line between necessary commercial practices and those that sought profits.

The religious affairs administration decided to tighten supervision on the financial management of temples, asking them to adopt the same systems of finance, tax, asset management and accounting as non-religious institutions.

Temples should register with taxation authorities and report revenue and expenditure according to the law, the document said.

A third-party supervisor will oversee financial operations and the donation funds of temples, and relevant information will be published.

Promoting religion online will also be subject to government regulation. Organizations and individuals wishing to provide religious information online should apply to provincial religious affairs departments, the document said.

The guideline encourages local governments to curb the seeking of profits in the name of religion.

Tourist sites known for their religious significance are banned from charging high entrance fees, and local governments are discouraged from erecting unnecessarily large religious idols and building temples in non-religious locations to attract tourists.

They should not fuel a “religious craze,” as a way to boost the economy and develop tourism, the document said.

The government will crack down on organizations and individuals hiring fake monks or Taoists and holding illegal rituals to gain donations or encourage irrational spending on religious rituals.

Efforts will be made to minimize air pollution and fire risks from incense burning and to regulate the Buddhist practice of freeing captive animals in order to prevent invasive species.

“The problem of some temples being too commercialized will affect the healthy development of the two religions, compromise social morals and trigger corruption,” the guideline said.

The cause of the problem is complicated, partly due to fewer disciplined religious people and partly to interest groups that want to turn faith into a business, said an official with the religious affairs administration.

Both Master Xuecheng and Li pledged that temples will tighten management and discipline.

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