Religious leaders representing Buddhism, Taoism and I-Kuan Tao yesterday urged the government to pass a proposed religious groups act so that the nation’s various religious traditions and practices can be regulated by the legal system.
“In the past, the government’s attitude toward religion was to manage, rather than providing assistance. It also failed to value our contributions to society until recently … Religious groups actually need the government to assist us in becoming legal. Religion cannot exist outside the law,” Buddhist Master Ching Yao (淨耀) from the Puxian Cihai Juvenile House said at a public hearing organized by Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) and Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) on the draft act proposed by the two lawmakers.
The existing law that governs religious groups is the Act of Temple Supervision (監督寺廟條例), which was put into effect in 1929 and concerns only Buddhism and Taoism.
Today, there are 27 religions officially registered in Taiwan and religious devotees make up more than half the population, said Fan Kuo-kuang (范國廣), a former civil servant at the Ministry of the Interior.
Since 2000, the Executive Yuan has made four attempts to introduce new legislation on religions to the Legislative Yuan, but failed each time, National Religion Development Foundation chairman Chu Wu-hsien (朱武獻) said.
The ministry has also drafted a religious group act that is expected to be sent to the Executive Yuan for approval by the end of next month, Department of Civil Affairs Deputy Director Lin Ching-chi (林清淇) said.
Chu said the versions of the act drafted by the ministry and the two legislators were largely the same.
“The main point is to treat religious groups as juristic persons so that we can own properties and open bank accounts,” he said.
Under the proposed draft, religious organizations qualify for an exemption from income tax, and are not required to pay house or land value taxes for their properties, Fan said.
Donations to religious organizations are also exempt from inheritance, gift and land value increment taxes, Fan added.
Another benefit granted by the proposed law is that religious organizations would be allowed to purchase state-owned land that has been used for religious activities for five years or longer, Chu said.
Meanwhile, Master Ching Yao and the Taiwan Taoism Federation called for legal status for shen tan (神壇), places of worship located in private homes or buildings.
Others voiced concerns over whether the proposed legislation would be exploited for profit, with I-Kuan Tao Federation consultant Liu En-ting (劉恩廷) calling for certification of religious workers.
Taipei Taoism Association director Lin Shui-sheng (林水勝) agreed, saying: “Religious workers are professionals. Their job is to have a positive influence on people’s lives by following religious teachings and doctrines. There should be strict guidelines on how a religious worker can be approved or certified. Otherwise, the law will be harmful in the wrong hands.”