Mon, Mar 23, 2015 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: Religious groups lack legislation

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation’s management problems have become the focus of intense debate. Its financial dealings, land use, construction: It has all come under close scrutiny and seems to be developing into a denunciation campaign.

For many years now, the name “Tzu Chi” has been equated with, and gained global renown for, relief work. Almost anywhere disaster or poverty strikes, its blue-and-white-dressed volunteers can be seen lending a helping hand.

One can only hope that public criticism of this group that has made so many contributions will be constructive and that all religious organizations in the country will adopt transparent operations.

Tzu Chi is not alone, but its rapid development and its size has produced a strong and focused backlash, which in fact is a backlash against the almost complete lack of regulations governing Taiwan’s religious organizations.

There are 27 religious organizations registered with the Ministry of the Interior. All these organizations should be treated equally and be governed by reasonable laws and regulations stipulating that what comes from the public should also be used for the public. Income, expenditures and other financial details should be reported and be open to public scrutiny. This must be the most basic requirement, but the reality unfortunately looks very different.

Current legislation and regulations regarding religious organizations are divided into two sections. When Catholic and Protestant organizations were first established in Taiwan, they registered as foundations, and are thus regulated as foundations. However, these regulations are administrative orders issued by the interior ministry, and cases would be dealt with under civil law or the Ministry of the Interior.

The regulations governing Eastern beliefs such as Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are even more preposterous.

Such organizations are governed by the Temple Oversight Act (寺廟監督條例), which was promulgated almost a century ago in China on Dec. 7, 1929. The whole act consists of a mere 13 articles. Because it only governs temples with Buddhist and Taoist monks, and not Christian churches, several of the articles have been deemed unconstitutional by the Council of Grand Justices, leaving but a few articles. Add to this that temple registration is governed by an administrative order and it is easy to see that there are many loopholes.

This situation means that the legality of land zoning and building occupation permits for many temples in Taiwan is questionable.

Another problem is insufficient financial transparency. This chaotic situation has perhaps developed over the years because religious circles do not care, but also, and more importantly, because of the failure of the government’s system.

The current controversy surrounding Tzu Chi is just the tip of the iceberg, but it would be a good thing if it could help us see the full extent of the problem.

Recent statements by Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) and former premier Sean Chen (陳?) are a reminder to us all about whether the Cabinet has a responsibility to fill in the creation of a well-rounded body of laws. For example, when it comes to religious organizations that have received large donations from the public, the simplest way to avoid irregularities would be for them to clearly state their financial record. Why is there no law to that effect?

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