In this paper, we will treat the issue of the practice
of religious freedom in Korea and its suppression by the political power. To begin, we
will review the countrys historical background, including its cultural and political
history, which has affected the present practice of religious freedom in Korea. We will
then analyze the present exercise of religious freedom, including some of the legal
dimensions. Furthermore, we will investigate the violations of religious freedom,
particularly the freedom of mission, which is the practice of religious freedom in a
concrete socioeconomic and political context.
One of the fundamental assumptions of this paper will be that religious
freedom is suppressed whenever it seriously threatens the political power and that the
issue of religious freedom may have to be seen in the context of power relations or power
conflicts. This means that we may have to look not only into international power
conflicts, national power relations and power factors within religions, but we also may
have to examine the nature of the powers that are engaged in relating and confronting. In
addition, the ultra-efficient exercise of power by technological means today has
far-reaching implications for religious freedom as well.
I. The History of Religious Freedom in Korea
The term "religious freedom" did not exist until foreign
missionaries, particularly Protestant missionaries, came to Korea in about 1884. In fact,
the Korean-American Treaty of 1884 did not include a clause of toleration for Christian
worship in Korea. Permission for Christian worship was only granted when the Korean-French
Treaty was signed in 1886. While this treaty permitted foreign residents in Korea to hold
worship services, it did not mean general tolerance for all of the Korean people.
Nevertheless, this treaty became a watershed for the development of Korean Christianity,
which was allowed to propagate its faith among the Korean people.
Prior to this historical event, the Roman Catholic faith had been
severely persecuted for about 100 years under the state ideology of neo-Confucianism? This
was the harshest example of religious persecution in Korean history except for the
neo-Confucian suppression of Buddhists at the beginning of the Chosen Dynasty under the
theory of anti-Buddhism (Chokbullon). Of course, the history of religion in Korea
involves many religious-political conflicts. When religion is aligned with the ruling
power, it becomes an ideology to suppress the contending religion; and when religion is
intertwined with the opposing power, then that religion is persecuted. There l~ave even
been intra-religious persecutions, for example, by established Buddhism and orthodox
Confucianism against "heretical" variations of these religions. In all of these
cases, however, power - the political power - is the critical factor in the persecution of
During the period of establishing the Three Kingdoms, we find examples
of religious,persecution. The first historically recorded persecution was against the
Buddhist religion, as illustrated in the story of the Buddhist martyr I Cha-don2 who
was executed because of political pressure by the kings court. The event became a
turning point, however, as Buddhism gained more influence in the Silla Dynasty. When
Buddhism became established though, it suppressed populist Buddhist sects, such as
Maitreiya Buddhism, which is often associated with political opposition. Kung-ye/
the founder of Hukokuryo, was associated with the Maitreiya sect of Buddhism and called
himself the Messiah Buddha.
However, the real suppression of Buddhism had taken place earlier with
the founding of the neo-Confucian dynasty by Li Song-kye in 1392. It was systematically
argued that the ruin of the kingdom was caused by Buddhist teaching, which was false. The
most famous critic was the ideologue of the Chosun Dynasty, Chong To-jon, who fiercely
argued against Buddhism, largely drawing upon neo- Confucianist arguments.5 Thus,
during the Chosun Dynasty (1392- 1910), Buddhism was suppressed and was at best a second-
class religion. When Buddhism was associated with political opposition or a popular
uprising, then it and the popular movement were ruthlessly repressed together. Qne
important point, however, is that Confucian teachings and Buddhist teachings generally
co-existed before neoConfucianism became the state ideology of the Chosun regime. In fact,
neoConfucianism became an orthodoxy unable to tolerate other religious or philosophical
teachings, prohibiting any deviant or heterodoxical interpretation of Confucianism.
When Roman Catholic books were introduced from China in approximately
1603, their teachings were viewed in essentially the same way as Buddhism: Roman Catholic
teachings were considered morally faulty, and they undermined the moral and social order
of the Chosun Dynasty. When Roman Catholics began to practice their beliefs and to do away
with ancestral worship and sacrifice, not only was the religion officially banned, but its
believers were ruthlessly executed, suffering the cruelest deaths.
The persecution of Catholic believers in the Chosun Dynasty reached its
peak in 1839 when the anti-Catholic decree was issued, which we partially quote:
"Alas! Who can be born without a father, and who can grow up
without a mother? They call the ones who gave birth to me the parents of the flesh; they
call Chonju (Heavenly Lord) the parent of the soul, and they only worship and love
Him but cut themselves off from their parents. This is unforgivable because it breaks the
filial relationship. Ancestral worship has been practiced from the beginning of time...,
and the filial son cannot bear the death of his parents without ancestral rites. And yet
they destroy ancestral tablets and prohibit ancestral worship."
This religious oppression continued until Western religions enjoyed de
facto toleration as a result of the opening of the country to the Western nations. The
only trace of formal tolerance is found in the treaty of amity between Korea and France,
allowing worship services by foreigners in Korea. By this time, however, 20,000 Roman
Catholics had been executed.
Several years later in 1894 another conflict between the Chosun regime
and a religious-political movement called the Tonghak Rebellion took place. Tonghak was
treated like a heresy or heterodoxy that could not be tolerated, and its founder,
Choi Che-u, was executed under charges of subversion. Tonghak was, first of all, an
indigenous religion, not associated with any political movement; but because its belief in
egalitarian values began to materialize into religious practice in the Tonghak Rebellion,
it was ruthlessly suppressed with the reluctantly solicited aid of China and Japan.
At about this time, the social conditions were ripe for the rapid
growth of Christianity, which was also making an impact upon the social and political
reform movement of the Independence Club. One mission agency official in the United States
"The leading spirit in the Independence Movement is a Christian.
Most of the patriotic demonstrations were made...by Chris-Hans.. .One person said,
Society must be turned upside down. There is no hope in the upper classes.
Christianity begins at the bottom. After all, a mans a man, be he king, noble or
coolie. ...Christianity is essentially an emancipating religion and leads inevitably to
the desire for free government, peace and popular institutions.
When the Independence Movement and Christian leaders in it began to put
their beliefs into practice, advocating free government, the Chosun regime immediately
dismantled the organization and put its leaders in prison. At this time, there was the
fear that Protestantism might face a fate similar to that suffered earlier by Roman
The question of religious freedom was also a serious issue under
Japanese colonialism. When the Japanese took control of the Korean Peninsula in 1905
immediately after the Russo-Japanese War, they began to curtail the influence of
Christianity in Korea, for the Christian faith advocated freedom from all sins and evils.
This meant that the Christian faith was a liberating religion for the oppressed people. As
soon as Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910, the colonial regime fabricated the
conspiracy case to assassinate Terauchi, the governor general. This was done to suppress
Korean Christians, who held religious beliefs that were conducive to their involvement in
the, independence struggle against Japanese colonialism. Missionaries documented the case
and published a human rights report entitled The Korean Situation.8
The Japanese colonial government also sought to curtail the influence
of Christianity in the schools, for mission schools and Christian private schools
outnumbered the government schools at the time. To achieve this goal, the colonial
government banned all religious instruction during regular class hours in the mission
schools. The doctrine of separation of State and Church was used by the State to eliminate
religious instruction from educational institutions, public or private, and the colonial
regime actively carried out inculcation of a national ideology based upon the Meiji
Education Rescript, which demanded loyalty to the Japanese emperor and nation.9 Here
again, the political power limited and suppressed the practice of religion.
One missionary stated the situation as follows:
"These new regulations prohibit religious instruction in all
private schools in Korea. The Educational Senate of the Federated Missions in
Korea...offered to bring its schools into line with the government curriculum with one
additional study, that of the Bible. This had no effect. ...The Educational Senate asked
to make Bible study purely optional. This was refused. ... Schools in Korea can have Bible
instruction neither as a compulsory nor as an optional subject, neither during school
hours nor outside of school hours. The school must be completely separated from the
The most dramatic suppression of the churches and Christians by
Japanese colonialism was during the March 1 Independence Movement in 1919. Christians
participated wholeheartedly in the movement, which was a non-violent resistance movement
against the Japanese colonial regime. According to the governor general in Korea,
Christians provided leadership for 220 events between March 1, 1919, and March 1, 1920.
The entire Church was involved. The Japanese suppression was brutal, as illustrated by the
actions of the Japanese in Cheamri where they burned down a church full of Christians. It
is generally recognized that by ratio the Christians suffered the most from this
oppression, although we do not have exact figures. There is a detailed human rights report
on the suffering of the Korean people from this repression, however.11 Once
again though, when religious beliefs are practiced in a political context in opposition to
the political power, this leads to suppression of the religion by that power.
Religious persecution intensified during the 1930s when the Japanese
colonial power demanded "religious" loyalty to the Japanese emperor, thus,
forcing Shinto worship upon all Koreans, including Christians. This was especially
difficult for the Christians, for they believed that Shinto worship was idolatry. The
Japanese also selectively banned Christian books and literature.
In the midst of this repression, Christians were forced to become
either martyrs or betrayers of their religion. The persecution and political oppression
reached apocalyptic proportions. Christians were forced to deny their faith against their
will and to submit themselves to worship of the emperor. Many chose to be imprisoned or to
become martyrs.12 Christians also had to endure Japans ultranationalist
ideology and military adventurism that proposed to conquer Asia and to establish the
so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. This imperialistic goal harshly pressed
all Koreans, including the Christian community, to submit themselves totally to the
Persecution on a massive scale rose again at the end of World War II.
The military forces of the Soviet Union occupied the northern half of the Korean Peninsula
and established a communist regime; the military forces of the United States occupied the
southern part and established a military government and later the Republic of Korea in
1948. The people in Korea found themselves subjected to an ideological and military
conflict imposed by the Cold War of the two superpowers.
The Korean War became the most tragic expression of this conflict. In
this context, the suppression of religion, especially Christianity, again took place in
Korea. It was Christians who suffered most under the communist regime in the North. It is
claimed that there were 2,000 churches and 300,000 Christians in north Korea immediately
after World War II. All of these churches completely disappeared, however, and vast
numbers of Christians escaped and fled to the South. Many were martyred.
In the South during the Korean War, churches and Christians suffered
war-time suppression in the areas occupied by the north Korean Communists, which covered
the whole Korean Peninsula except for a small part of the Taegu-Pusan area. Christians,
being classified as agents of imperialism, were regarded as the enemy by the Communists.
The nature of the communist regime in its totalitarian power did not allow any room for
religious tolerance, especially of the Christian faith.13
It is again clear that the dominant political power will suppress any
religion or religious practice when it perceives this as a challenge to itself in both
ideological and political terms. This is particularly true when the political power makes
an absolute claim on ideological or religious truth.
II The Present State of Religious Freedom
The violation of human rights, in general, and religious freedom, in
particular, is complex. We need to analyze the factors in Korean society which create the
context for abuses of human rights and religious freedom.
From the above survey of Koreas story of religious freedom, or
rather the violations of this freedom, we can discern a traditional factor: the
authoritarian power asserts its claim over what is right and wrong -religiously, ethically
and ideologically. In the life of the Korean people, the neo- Confucian orthodoxy of the
Chosen Dynasty has been the main traditional factor that determines the use or, more
appropriately, abuse of power. This factor has a strong hold on the authoritarian powers
in Korea, creating a political and cultural environment for violations of human rights.
Korean regimes have used authoritarian Confucian values to consolidate and to justify
hierarchical systems of power and the arbitrary exercise of this power. For example, the
traditional concept of loyalty (to the king) is used to boost the authority of the
president. Another example is the legal tradition of neo- Confucian orthodoxy that
emphasizes the punitive function of the law, that is, the law is used to punish people
rather than to protect innocent people.14 This is manifested in a legal process
which constantly violates the rights of the people. In fact, the Confucian factor is so
diffuse and pervasive in the Korean political culture that it undermines the democratic
rights of the people.
Ideology, as utilized by the ruling power, is a newly emergent cause of
human rights violations. The grave issue before the independence of Korea was the
semi-ideological, semi-religious Japanese emperor system with its militarist and
ultranational chauvinist traits; but since the defeat of Japan, the ideology of communism
has become a critical issue, particularly in the Cold War context. In south Korea, the
ideological climate has been governed to a large extent by anti-communism, a negative
stance against the political ideology of north Korea. The ambiguous linking of
peoples thoughts, writings and acts with communist ideology has been used to
suppress voices and actions critical of the ruling regime in south Korea, including
religious thoughts and actions.
The national emotions of Korea are ones of fierce hostility and tension
because of the uneasy cease-fire along the Demilitarized Zone. What is worse is the
military confrontation over the past 30 years between the interlocking military alliances
of south Korea and the United States, on the one hand, and north Korea, the Soviet Union
and China, on the other. This confrontation has not only threatened peace on the peninsula
but has also done immeasurable damage to the basic rights of the people living under the
divided and hostile regimes.
The modern concept or doctrine of total national security has opened
the door to the militarization of society in which all aspects of national life have
become security matters. As a result, national security concerns - defined and dominated
mainly by military considerations - are paramount, overshadowing even human rights
considerations. National survival becomes the supreme goal of the society, not merely a
basic objective, and yet, ironically, the national security doctrine has been the pretext
for the suppression of human rights in many parts of the world.
The Japanese military "heritage" and subsequent U.S. and
U.S.S.R. occupation have thrust the Korean people into the forefront of the ideological
and military battlefield and into a localized arms race under the aegis of the Cold War
between the superpowers. The two parts of divided Korea have been locked into the
competing global military strategic systems, which are engaged in a fierce confrontation
that threatens the Earth. In this environment where military and security objectives take
precedence, there is no space for the serious consideration of human rights. On the
contrary, in the name of war, human rights are violated and restricted.
Under these circumstances, the military takes direct or indirect
command of national life, of politics, of economics. Its political control covers not
merely governmental affairs but social relations, cultural life and even religious and
spiritual life. The ruling power commands elaborate police and security systems to
maintain tight and total surveillance of the entire population. It controls cultural
institutions, such as the educational system and the information and communication media,
which it actively manipulates. Modern technology is applied with efficiency and
sophistication to achieve this control.
The establishment of these control systems through technological means
is closely related to the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), which seek to expand
and control the worlds resources for maximum profits. This process equals or
surpasses the nation-states pursuit of security. Penetration of the giant
international corporations into countries such as Korea have been a real contributing
factor to the abuse of human rights. For example, restrictive labor laws have been
instituted to attract international investment and to safeguard its profits.15
The presence of giant international business corporations is the vital
link in the global capitalist system as it affects Third World countries. TNCs exert
pressure upon economic, social, political and cultural institutions in such a way that
human rights are more likely to be violated, especially when there are no effective
measures to safeguard them or when those measures are weakened under the efficient
political control of the ruling powers in those countries. The logic of control in this
case is expressed in terms of its absolute necessity for social and political stability to
achieve economic growth and development, and thereby, the rights of workers, farmers and
the poor can be restricted or postponed.
III. Patterns of Human Rights Violations
The most consistent and sustained patterns of human rights violations
in Korea have been related to movements opposing the political power. The ruling regimes
of the Chosun Dynasty and the Japanese colonial period, the northern communist regime and
the regimes in the South have consistently suppressed opposition without any tolerance.
Under Park Chung-hee, any opposition to his regime was ruthlessly put
down. When the Park government negotiated the normalization treaty with Japan in 1965, the
Korean church opposed the terms of the treaty, asserting that it was too compromising to
be meaningful. In retaliation against this Christian opposition, the Park regime sought
the enactment of a series of laws to restrict religious activities and to collect taxes
from religious organizations. The most far-reaching proposal was the Law on the
Registration of Social Organizations, aimed at the control of religious organizations.
That legislation was abandoned though because of the strong opposition of the Korean
churches.16 However, the Park regime continued to view the Christian churches
as a hostile force.
This issue was followed by another confrontation when the Park regime
attempted to perpetuate itself through a constitutional amendment permitting a third
presidential term, which was barred by the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. This was
strongly challenged by the leaders of Korean society, especially by Christians, who saw
democracy as an ethical mandate rising out of their faith and who believed that the
perpetuation of one man rule was against democracy. The leading person against this
constitutional amendment was the Rev. Dr. Kim Chai Choon, who had a large following among
ecumenical Christians in Korea. This was the beginning of the real confrontation between
the Park regime and Christians over the issue of human rights and religious freedom.
When the Park regime introduced the Yushin (Revitalization)
Constitution under martial law in October 1972, there was all-out opposition, for this
Constitution allQwed the lifelong presidency of Park and severely curtailed the rights of
the people. The Christians view was that the Park regime and the Yushin Constitution
were effectively undermining the democratic development of the Korean people. As a result
of this stand, Christians naturally found themselves at the forefront of the human rights
movement in Korea in the 1970s.
They issued their theological position on reality in Korea in 1973 as
"We make this declaration in the name of the Korean Christian
community. But under the present circumstances, in which one man controls all the powers
of the three branches of government and uses military arms and the intelligence network to
oppress the people, we hesitate to reveal those who signed this document....
"We are under Gods command that we should be faithful to His
Word in concrete historical situations. It is not a sense of triumphant victory that moves
us today; rather, it is a sense of confession of our sins before God to speak the truth
and to act in the present situation of Korea.
"We as a Christian community believe: (1) we are commanded by God
to be representatives before God the Judge and Lord of history, to pray that the suffering
and oppressed people may be set free; (2) we are commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ to
live among the oppressed, the poor and the despised as He did in Judea; we are summoned to
stand up and speak the truth to the powers-that-be, as He did before Pontius Pilate of the
Roman Empire; (3) we are compelled by the Spirit to participate in His transforming power
and movement for the creation of a new society and a new history as well as for the
transformation of our character; this Spirit is the Spirit of the Messianic Kingdom who
commands us to struggle for socio-political transformation.
"Therefore, we express our theological convictions as follows:
(1) The present dictatorship is destroying rule by law and persuasion;
it now rules by force and threat alone. ...No one is above the law except God. ...If
anyone poses himself above the law and betrays the divine mandate for justice, he is in
rebellion against God. ...(2) The regime in Korea is destroying freedom of conscience and
freedom of religious belief. There is freedom neither of expression nor of silence. There
is interference by the regime in Christian churches worship services, prayer
gatherings, the conWnt of sermons and teaching of the Bible. ...(3) The dictatorship...is
using systematic deception, manipulation and indoctrination to control the people. The
mass media has been turned into the regimes propaganda machine to tell the people
half-truths and outright lies and to control and manipulate information to deceive
people.. ..(4) The dictatorship.. .uses sinister and inhuman and, at the same time,
ruthlessly efficient means to destroy political opponents, intellectual critics and
innocent people...Peop!e are physically and mentally tortured, intimidated and threatened,
and sometimes they even disappear completely. These are, indeed, diabolical acts against
humanity. ...(5) The present dictatorship is responsible for the economic system in Korea,
in which the powerful dominate the poor. The people, poor workers and rural peasants, are
victims of severe exploitation and social and economic injustice".17
On the basis of these religious convictions, Korean Christians acted to
promote the cause of human rights and to aid the victims of human rights violations. In
November 1973, the National Council of Churches in Korea issued a declaration of human
rights in five areas: religious freedom, the rights of workers, womens rights,
academic freedom and freedom of speech.18
As a result, there are mission groups in the Korean church advocating
for the rights of the people through legal aid and educational programs, and statements
are issued in support of the human rights causes of particular groups. These include
groups of workers, journalists, students and intellectuals, such as university teachers
and writers, who are organized to fight the violation of their own human rights. In
addition, a special Commission on Human Rights was established in 1974 under the National
Council of Churches to document human rights violations, to give legal aid to political
prisoners, to communicate with international and national Christian communities and to
enlist support for human rights in Korea. The National Council of Churches and the Korean
churches also have organized prayer meetings for the victims and conferences to discuss
issues related to human rights.
Such activities by religious organizations, individuals and churches
are under constant pressure, harassment and surveillance. People involved in human rights
activities face detention, house arrest, arrest without warrant, imprisonment, torture and
"trial by media" to discredit themselves or their organization. The
congregational life of pastors who are also human rights activists is constantly harassed
as well, and worship services, including the contents of prayers and sermons, are
monitored. Special prayer meetings, such as the Thursday Evening Prayer Meeting for the
victims of human rights violations sponsored by the Korea National Council of Churches,
are some of the primary targets of suppression. Public lectures and consultations on
issues of Christian mission are constantly harassed and monitored, and several pastors
have been prosecuted for the contents of their sermons or speeches.
Mission organizations advocating the rights of the poor, industrial
workers, farmers, the urban poor and pollution victims also suffer constant pressure from
the powers-that-be. Evangelistic work among the workers, for example, is tolerated, but
education, conscientization, organization and advocacy of labor rights are not. In fact,
there is now a legal provision to prevent any influence by so-called third parties, for
example, Christian mission organizations, in labor disputes. This restricts the mission of
the churches among the workers. Mission organizations which act for the workers are
branded by the public media as "impure elements" or "pro-communist
groups" in an attempt to isolate the churches mission among the workers from
Christian mission among students and intellectuals is also persecuted.
Christian student groups on campuses are free to do evangelistic work; but as soon as they
show concern for human rights or other socio-political issues, their activities are
harassed and restricted. The Korean Student Christian Federation and its activities are
under a defacto ban on campus. Activities by Christian intellectuals, including study and
research, the collection of materials, writing and publication, are also under constant
pressure from the authorities, and theological work comes under public attack for any
content dealing with socio- economic, political or cultural issues.
Numerous cases can be cited. The persistent violation and restriction
of religious freedom is related to the involvement of religion with social issues - an
involvement based on religious convictions. The Korean church refers to this question as
the "problem of freedom of mission." Traditionally, the mission of the Church
was understood primarily as evangelistic activities. In the Constitution of the Republic
of Korea, religious freedom is upheld: public worship, prayer and other religious
activities, such as religious propagation, are freely permitted. However, those religious
convictions and practices that call for support of human rights and the social and
cultural rights of the people are restricted and under constant pressure. This is the
consistent pattern of violations and restrictions of the freedom of religion in Korea in
In this environment, the churches and the State are in constant
conflict and tension over the interpretation of mission.19 One time a
government representative even ventured an interpretation of the Scriptures; and another
time, another government official tried to define the role of the churches in Korean
history. This is certainly a violation of the doctrine of separation of Church and State.
The authorities seek to define this doctrine in order to limit and restrict religious
freedom, rather than to guarantee it.
There are several ways for the ruling powers to limit and restrict
religious freedom. Certain legal measures are routinely used, for example,
security-related laws, which contain some clauses allowing for the suspension of human
rights in extraordinary circumstances. These provisions are characterized by ambiguous
definitions20 of the extraordinary circumstances and the boundaries of
violation of the law. This opens the door to the "liberal and convenient" use of
this law to fabricate cases with the intention of suppressing certain persons or groups.
Other legal measures, such as the criminal code and special measures, are also used to
suppress and restrict human rights, including religious rights.
Closely related to the above is the due process of law. Illegal
arrests, detentions for periods of interrogation without lawyers and in isolation and
torture are often used to intimidate, to extract confessions and to punish.
Because of the availability of highly sophisticated technological
apparatuses and because of the lack of any control over the use and misuse of these
apparatuses in political and criminal proceedings, a wide range of violations of human
rights and religious freedom is practiced with little public notice. In addition to a
modern intelligence and surveillance network, various information channels and the media
are also used to suppress and discredit religious organizations and religious leaders who
are involved in the mission of the church.
There are several areas in which the freedom of mission is violated,
which may be summarized as follows:
1. The freedom of expression of religious thought is under attack.
There are restrictions on the publication of theological formulations; and even when
published, these can be banned. They are subject ~ prosecution, to public attack in the
media and other forms of restriction.
2. Religious communication is also restricted. For example, the
Christian Broadcasting System - formerly a fully functioning radio medium with news,
commentary and entertainment as well as religious programs - is now limited to the
communication of so-called purely religious matters with matters pertaining to mission
banned because of their socio-political implications. This applies likewise to other forms
of Christian journalism.
3. The development of religious relationships and fellowship across
national boundaries is restricted by blocking the exchange of experiences and information
and by restricting travel. Passports are often denied or restricted for travel to
religious conferences abroad.
4. Religious gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, are under constant
surveillance and monitoring; and at times, gatherings for prayer are physically prevented.
5. The practice of ones religious convictions comes under
pressure when these convictions are related to questions of justice and human rights. The
consistent pattern of restriction and suppression of religious freedom in Korea is in the
form of violating the freedom of mission.
IV. Concluding Remarks
There is religious freedom in Korea today to the extent that religion
avoids touching critically on any questions about the policies or the power of the ruling
regime. When the economic, social, political and cultural implications of religious
beliefs and convictions are expressed and acted out in the mission work of religion and
when they touch upon the legitimacy, policies and power of the ruling regime in a critical
way, then freedom of religion is not tolerated. However, it is an integral part of
religious practice to advocate the socio-economic, political and cultural rights of the
people as well as their basic human rights - at least this is an integral part of the
mission of the Christian churches.
This phenomenon of restricting and violating the freedom of mission of
the Church is widespread in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and it sometimes manifests
itself in the Christian West as well.
Todays political and economic powers are very difficult
realities; they cannot be controlled or restricted by law, by popular democratic
institutions or by public opinion. In this sense, democracy - parliamentary democracy - is
in crisis as are the authoritarian and totalitarian powers. There is no secure legal
guarantee of human rights and religious freedom in this political environment. The
political powers are the primary culprits responsible for human rights violations, and the
powerful economic corporations, which defy all legal and democratic control, undergird the
forces that violate human rights. The nature of the power of modern political and economic
institutions with their enormous size and their technological sophistication can easily
lead to the violation of the rights of people anywhere.
The question of religious freedom is, therefore, directly related to
the question of how to limit the political and economic powers, which are
institutionalized as the State and the giant TNCs in the world today. The question of
economic, social and cultural rights is bound together with that of basic human rights,
and thus, religious freedom cannot be thought of in an isolated way. Religious faith,
religious truth, religious thought and the practice of all of these are essential for the
creation of a social order that maximizes popular rights and that limits the unbridled
powers of political regimes and giant economic corporations. Thus, religious freedom is
not something to be granted by the State, but rather it must be viewed as the foundation
of human freedom for the peoples enjoyment of all their rights. This means that
religious freedom in the broadest sense should properly be the freedom of mission.
1. This is a summary report of research done by the writer. Regrettably
we cannot publish the full report.
2. Yu Hong-yol, A History of the Catholic Church in Korea (Seoul,
3. Kim Pu-sik, Records of Three Kingdoms; Il-yon, Inherited History of
I Cha-don was the first Buddhist martyr under the reign of Silla
King Pophung in A.D.527.
4. Throughout Korean history, populistic Buddhism, such as Maitreiya
Buddhism, was very much associated with political and social uprisings, although one time
- at the peak of Silla power - the Maitreiya Buddha was utilized as the cohesive national
symbol to unify the people.
5. Chong To-jon, Bulssi Chappyon (Various Criticisms against Buddhism).
The most important points of his criticism were that Buddhist ethical
teaching is faulty and that it undermines the Confucian social order.
6. Choksa Yuneum (Royal Edict against Evil Teachings), October
7. Robert Speer, Missions and Politics in Asia (New York, 1898) p. 287.
8. Federal Council of Boards of Foreign Mission in America, The Korean
Situation: Conspiracy Case, 1912.
9. Government General of Chosen, Manual of Education of Korea, 1913,
10. E. K. Loomis, a letter, 1916(?).
11. In addition to the official report, The Korean Situation: Authentic
Accounts of Recent Events by Eye Witnesses (issued by the Commission on Relations with the
Orient of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America), there is an
unpublished report, "Korean Independence Outbreak," written by anonymous authors
in 1919. Reportedly 360 Presbyterian leaders were arrested.
12. In July 1940, more than 2,000 Christians were imprisoned. By 1945,
about 50 of these imprisoned Christians had died as martyrs.
13. Some say that more than 400 church leaders became martyrs or were
abducted by the north Korean Communists during the Korean War.
14. Hahin Pyung-choon, Korean Political Tradition and Law (Seoul:
15. The Foreign Capital Inducement Law in 1966 and the Provisional
Exceptional Law restrict labor in foreign-invested companies. See Christian Institute for
the Study of Justice and Development, The Power of TNCs in Korea (Seoul, 1981) p. 15.
16. Kim Yong-Bock, "The Church and State since the Liberation of
The State Power and Christianity (Seoul: Christian Institute for the
Study of Justice and Development, 1982).
17. "Theological Declaration of Korean Christians," 1973.
18. "Human Rights Declaration," Korea National Council of
19. "Statement on Freedom of Mission," Korea National Council
of Churches, 1974.
20. See reports on human rights from the World Council of
Churches-Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (WCC-CCIA) and Amnesty
International for details.
21. Minjung (people) theology - a Korean theology - and liberation
theologies are subject to such harassment.