Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Hundreds of thousands of Buddhists took to streets of Seoul yesterday in protest against the religious bias of President Lee Myung-bak and his administration.

Considered the largest protest by Buddhists in decades, the rally saw more than 200,000 Buddhists from almost all orders - Jogye, Cheontae, Taego and Gwaneum - take to the streets from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. They marched to Jogye Temple located in Jongno, the de facto headquarters of Korean Buddhism, following the rally.

Organisers said Buddhist temples across the country simultaneously rang bronze bells.

"Buddhists united to stop religious bias," read one banner.

"This is only the beginning of our struggle," said Jinhwa, a monk acting as spokesman for the organisers.

Elements of conflict have existed between Buddhism and the Lee administration since the government took power. The evangelical zeal of Lee, a Presbyterian, is well known; he provoked controversy as Seoul mayor when he dedicated the metropolis to God.

Bhuddists have grown increasingly upset after police officers searched the car of the Ven. Jigwan, the chief executive of the country's largest Buddhist order, Jogye, in their search for anti-U.S. beef protest organizers taking shelter at a downtown temple.

Following that incident, Buddhists cited dozens of examples of anti-Buddhist discrimination. Cabinet and Blue House (Office of the President) staff appointments have been filled largely with connections Lee made through his church, and he made one Protestant clergyman a key presidential secretary. He had a minister do a Christian worship service at the Blue House, and he appointed former Pohang Mayor Jung Jang-sik, a man who tried to use city funds to “make Pohang a Christian city” as the head of the Central Officials Training Institute. He sent a video message to a major event at Full Gospel Church, the largest church in Korea, but then forgot to send a telegram to the country’s largest Buddhist denomination on the occasion of Buddha’s birthday, something the country’s presidents have all done as a matter of tradition.

And after other officials and governmental ministries saw where Lee's preferences lay, they joined in. The man second in charge at the presidential security service said it was his desire to “gospelize” the whole of government, and the chief of the National Police Agency made an appearance on a poster announcing an event to pray for the "gospelization" of the police. The country’s temples were excluded from the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs’s mass transit information system and the Ministry of Education and Science Technology’s geography education information system.

Excited Protestant ministers signed on with Lee and have been criticizing Buddhism and other religions with special passion lately. “All the countries that have Buddhism are poor,” Hankyoreh reports one minister lately in a series of comments that encourage religious conflict. “Even Buddha shouldn’t have made Buddhism.”

The Buddhist protesters in Seoul demanded that Lee apologize for the government's discrimination against Buddhism and the insults to their beliefs.

They also called on the police chief to resign to take responsibility for the invasive inspection last month of a vehicle of the head of the Jogye Order.

In addition, they demanded the removal of members of the People's Association against Mad Cow Disease hiding in a Buddhist temple from a wanted list.

``Unless the government meets our requests in a sincere manner, we will hold additional rallies in other parts of the country in cooperation with civic groups and religious organizations,'' the protesters said in a statement.

The following is from Channel News Asia.

South Korean Buddhists hold mass rally against alleged bias
Posted: 27 August 2008 1659 hrs

SEOUL - Tens of thousands of South Korean Buddhists rallied Wednesday in central Seoul to protest alleged pro-Christian bias by the government of President Lee Myung-Bak.

A crowd estimated by police at 55,000, including thousands of grey-robed monks, packed City Hall Plaza for the rare protest which began with the beating of a giant drum.

Organisers said Buddhist temples across the country rang bronze bells simultaneously.

"Buddhists united to stop religious bias," read one banner.

A police search involving Jigwan, head monk of the country's main Jogye Buddhist order, was the trigger for the mass rally.

"This is only the beginning of our struggle," said Jinhwa, a monk acting as spokesman for the organisers.

"This is the first time all 27 (Buddhist) orders have held a rally," he said, reiterating demands for an apology from Lee, the resignation of police chief Eo Cheong-Soo and legislation formally banning religious discrimination.

Buddhists have been uneasy over what they see as Christian bias since Lee, a Presbyterian church elder, came to power in February. They were unhappy when he included members of his church network in his first Cabinet.

An online map published by two ministries, showing Seoul's churches but not major Buddhist temples, also sparked anger.

In early July, seven activists wanted by police following protests against US beef imports took refuge in Seoul's Jogyesa temple.

Tensions grew late last month when police stopped a car carrying Jigwan outside the temple and searched the boot.

Police chief Eo apologised and disciplined two senior officers. But Buddhists accused police of treating the head monk like a criminal and called for Eo's resignation.

The government has tried to placate the Buddhists, with Culture Minister Yu In-Chon expressing regret Tuesday at the dispute.

Yu said regulations would be introduced to ban religious discrimination by government officials. Lee has urged his officials not to make controversial remarks on matters of faith.

But Buddhists were unappeased. Spokesman Jinhwa said that if their demands are not met, they would hold more protests across the country.

Official data shows South Korea has about 10 million Buddhists and 13.7 million Christians.

"This government is trying to evangelise the whole country and turn it into a Protestant state," said protester Suk Jin-Heung, carrying a banner demanding the resignation of the police chief.

He said many Protestant leaders were under the illusion that the country became a Protestant state when Lee was elected.

"But Lee must know he is not president only for Protestants but for Buddhists and Catholics too, and unbelievers as well," Suk told AFP.

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