Religious practice among Chinese Communist Party members is increasing and threatens its unity and national leadership, a top party official said in remarks reported Monday.
Party members are required to be atheists and must not believe in religion or engage in religious practice, said Zhu Weiqun, a member of the party's Central Committee and executive vice director of its United Front Work Department in charge of dealings with nonparty groups.
Religious practice is a growing trend, especially in areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, and must not be tolerated, Zhu said in comments published in the latest edition of the main party theoretical journal, Qiushi, and reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.
"Voices have appeared within the party calling for an end to the ban on religion, arguing in favor of the benefits of religion for party members and even claiming the ban on religion for party members is unconstitutional," Zhu said.
"In fact, our party's principled stance regarding forbidding members from believing in religion has not changed one iota," he said.
Zhu's stern remarks to the party's 80 million members come amid a spike in tensions between Beijing and the Vatican and crackdowns on independent churches, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and religious practice among Turkic Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The party ban on religious practice frequently also applies to all public servants and sometimes students, especially in minority areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang.
While it no longer actively works to eradicate religion as it did under Mao Zedong, the party remains deeply suspicious of religious practice and strictly controls when and where it can take place.
Churches must belong to official Protestant and Catholic religious associations, Imams must submit their sermons for vetting and Buddhist monks are forced to attend tedious and time consuming political indoctrination sessions demonizing Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.