Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities respect this right in practice.
Religious organizations fall under either the Temple Management Law, the Civic Organizations Law, or the Corporate Bodies Law. These laws require religious organizations to register with the central authorities through their island-wide associations. Individual places of worship may register with local authorities. Registered organizations operate on a tax-free basis and are required to make annual reports of their financial operations. Concern over abuse of tax-free privileges or other financial misdeeds occasionally prompts the authorities to deny registration to new religions whose doctrines are not clear or who may be confused with established religious organizations. In one case in 1996, some followers of a newly established religious organization brought charges against the founder for raising funds on a fraudulent basis. The court convicted the founder of fraud, and the case is now pending appeal. Apart from such cases, there were no reports that the authorities sought to suppress new religions.
Thirteen religious organizations have registered with the Ministry of Interior, which reports that 22.32 percent of the population are Buddhist; 20.66 percent are Taoist; 4.5 percent follow I-Kuan-Tao; 1.94 percent are Protestants; 1.4 percent are Roman Catholics; 1.06 percent follow Tien Li Chiao (Heaven Reason Religion); 0.97 percent follow Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion); 0.92 percent follow Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion); 0.7 percent follow Li-ism; 0.6 percent follow Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion); and 0.2 percent are Sunni Muslim. It also has been estimated by knowledgeable observers that almost 14 percent of the population are atheists. Among the Protestants, the following denominations are represented among the population: Presbyterians, True Jesus, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists, Episcopalians, and Jehovah's Witnesses. There are also small numbers of adherents of Judaism, the Baha'i Faith, Falun Gong, and the Mahikari religion. More than 70 percent of the indigenous population are Christian, while the majority of the population is largely Buddhist or Taoist.
However, whatever their religion, many persons also follow a collection of beliefs that might be called "traditional Chinese folk religion," which is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture. These beliefs include, but are not limited to, shamanism, ancestor worship, magic, ghosts and other spirits, and aspects of animism. This folk religion may overlap with an individual's belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other traditional Chinese religions. Knowledgeable observers have estimated that perhaps as many as 80 percent of the population believe in some form of traditional folk religion.
Individual members of Taiwan's political leadership practice various faiths, including minority religions. Religious beliefs cross political party and geographical lines.
Foreign missionary groups operate freely. For example, missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Watch Tower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) operate without restriction.
Religious instruction is not permitted in public or private schools at the elementary, middle, or high school levels. However, universities and research institutions have religious studies departments, and religious organizations operate theological seminaries.
The Ministry of Interior promotes interfaith understanding among religious groups by sponsoring symposiums (or helping to defray the expenses of privately-sponsored symposiums) on religious issues.
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. However, there are 30 members of the Watch Tower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) who have been imprisoned for failing to follow orders while in military service. There is no indication that members of the Watch Tower Society have been singled out for their beliefs, and the authorities are working on a solution to the issue of conscientious objectors through an alternative service law.
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 authorities' refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable. The Taiwan Council for Religion and Peace, the China Religious Believers Association, and the Taiwan Religions Association are private organizations that promote greater understanding and tolerance among adherents of the different religions. Those associations and various religious groups occasionally sponsor symposiums to promote mutual understanding.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The American Institute in Taiwan is in frequent contact with representatives of human rights organizations and occasionally meets with leaders of various religious communities.
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