Fri, Dec 20, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Draft religious law passes hurdle

LEGISLATIVE NOD A bill working its way through the legislature would update rules that have failed to keep pace with the growth in the number of religions in country

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

A bill aimed at acknowledging the wide range of religions now practiced in Taiwan, stamping out fraud by religious organizations and allowing religious schools to apply for official recognition of their qualifications passed its first reading in the legislature yesterday.

Religious organizations violating the law would be disbanded by the government, if the Legislative Yuan passes the draft.

"The bill will finally give us a legal basis to regulate religious organizations' operations in Tai-wan," said Lin Mei-chu (林美珠), director of the Ministry of the Interior's Civil Affairs Department.

The country has enforced a Management of Temples Law since 1929. The law specifically regulates Buddhism and Taoism but ignores other religions.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, 18 religions are now practiced in Taiwan.

"With numerous new religions and some religions' commercialization, we believe it's necessary to regulate religious organizations' operations by enacting this law," the Cabinet said of the draft.

The bill was introduced to the legislature's Home and Nations Committee on Wednesday.

If the bill is passed into law, all religious organizations in Taiwan would be required to register with local governments' civil affairs departments. With the registration, religious organizations would have to describe their activities and list their assets -- a requirement intended to prevent the fraudulent solicitation of funds.

Under the regulations, religious organizations would be allowed to found religious schools, which will be eligible for Ministry of Education accreditation if they meet ministry criteria.

There are numerous religious schools in Taiwan, including Christian and Buddhist, but the number of such schools is unknown as the Ministry of Education does not recognize the schools' qualifications.

PFP Legislator Shen Chih-hwei (沈智慧), who has been pushing the bill's passage in the legislature, said many religious organizations had opposed the bill, arguing it would violate the freedom of religion.

"But this law is to legalize the status of religious organizations and we hope it will help end religious chaos," Shen said yesterday.

Taiwan has experienced a number of scandals in recent years involving religious organizations illegally soliciting donations.

Sung Chi-li (宋七力), a cult leader who claims to have supernatural powers, is alleged to have illegally solicited several million dollars in donations and was sued by some of his followers for fraud in 1997. The case is still before the courts.

Last year, some 1,800 former followers of Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy accused the head of the academy, Hong Shih-ho (洪石和), of taking money from them while they were studying with him.

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