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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. There is no state religion, and the Government does not subsidize or favor a particular religion.

There are no government-established requirements for religious recognition. In order to protect cultural properties such as Buddhist temples, the Government established the Traditional Temples Preservation Law. In accordance with this law, Buddhist temples receive some subsidies from the Government for their preservation and upkeep.

The Religious Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism takes the lead in organizing groups such as the Korea Religious Council and the Council for Peaceful Religions in order to promote interfaith dialog and understanding. The Bureau is also responsible for planning regular events such as the Religion and Art Festival, the Seminar for Religious Leaders, and the Symposium for Religious Newspapers and Journalists.

According to a 1995 government survey, the country's major religions and their number of adherents are: Buddhism--10,321,012 persons; Protestantism--8,760,336 persons; Roman Catholicism--2,950,730 persons; Confucianism--210,927 persons; Won Buddhism--86,923 persons; and other religions--267,996 persons. There was a total of 21,593,000 atheists or non-practitioners.

Among those practicing a faith, 41.7 percent said that they attend religious services or rituals at a temple or church at least once a week. Six percent responded that they attend religious services two to three times a month; 9.4 percent attend once a month; 6.8 percent attend once every 2 to 3 months; 26.9 percent attend once a year; and 9.2 percent do not attend any services.

Among practicing Buddhists, 1.2 percent responded that they attend religious services. A total of 71.5 percent of Protestants and 60.4 percent of Catholics responded that they attend religious services.

Buddhism has approximately 38 orders, such as the "Korea Buddhist Kwaneum Order." The Catholic Church has 15 dioceses, including Seoul. There are 83 Protestant denominations, including the Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, the Anglican Church, and the Korean Gospel Church Assembly.

Although no official figures for the number of adherents are available, there are also several minority religions, such as the Elijah Evangelical Church, the Jesus Morning Star Church, and the All People's Holiness Church. Muslims, members of the Unification Church, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses are also present.

There are 17 Protestant and 6 Catholic missionary groups operating in the country. Among the Protestant groups are: Christians in Action, Korea; the Church of the Nazarene, Korea mission; the Overseas Mission Fellowship; and a World Opportunities International, Korea branch. Among the Catholic missionary groups are the Missionaries of Guadalupe, the Prado Sisters, and the Little Brothers of Jesus. In accordance with the March 1, 1999 change in the Immigration Control Law, foreign missionary groups are no longer required to register with the Government. There were no reports of foreign missionaries being arrested or detained for their missionary activities.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between religious groups are generally amicable and free of incident, and religious tolerance is widespread. There have been reports of so-called "Protestant fanatics" damaging Buddhist temples and artifacts through vandalism and arson. Such reports generate calls for religious tolerance and mutual respect in the media and among the general public. However, such incidents are rare, and religious leaders regularly meet both privately and under the aegis of the Government (see Section I) to promote mutual understanding and tolerance. These meetings are given wide and favorable coverage by the media. Violence in late 1998 at the Chogye-sa Temple between Buddhist groups resulted from a leadership struggle rather than religious motives.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Embassy officials also meet regularly with members of various religious communities to discuss issues related to human rights.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999