The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The American Institute in Taiwan discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
Taiwan is a group of islands with a total land area of approximately 13,800 square miles located in the Western Pacific Ocean off the east coast of mainland China. It has a population of approximately 22.5 million. While reliable statistics are not available, it can be estimated from registration statistics that of the population approximately 22 percent are Buddhist; 22 percent are Taoist; 4 percent follow I Kuan Tao; 2 percent are Protestants; 1.5 percent are Roman Catholics; 1 percent follow Tien Li Chao (Heaven Reason Religion); 1 percent follow Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion); 1 percent follow Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion); 0.7 percent follow Li-ism; 0.6 percent follow Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion); and 0.02 percent are Sunni Muslim. Statistics are not available for other religious groups present in Taiwan including Confucianism, Ta I Chao (Great Changes Religion), and Hai Tzu Chiao (Innocent Child Religion). It also has been estimated by knowledgeable observers that almost 14 percent of the population are atheist. Among the Protestants, the following denominations are represented among the population: Presbyterians; True Jesus; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons); Baptists; Lutherans; Seventh-Day Adventists; Episcopalians; and Jehovah's Witnesses. There also are small numbers of adherents of Judaism, the Baha'i Faith, and the Mahikari religion. More than 70 percent of the indigenous population are Christian. The majority of religious adherents either are Buddhist or Taoist, but a large percentage consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist. Approximately 50 percent of the population regularly participates in some form of organized religious practice.
In addition to practicing another religion, many persons also follow a collection of beliefs that are deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, and which can be referred to as "traditional Chinese folk religion." These beliefs include, but are not limited to, shamanism, ancestor worship, magic, ghosts and other spirits, and aspects of animism. This folk religion may overlap with an individual's belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other traditional Chinese religions. There also may be an overlap with the practitioners of Falun Gong, the numbers of which have grown rapidly during the period covered by this report to as many as 100,000. Observers have estimated that as many as 80 percent of the population believes in some form of traditional folk religion.
Religious beliefs cross political and geographical lines. Members of Taiwan's political leadership practice various faiths, including minority religions.
Foreign missionary groups are active in Taiwan, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Watchtower Society (Jehovah's Witnesses).
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. The authorities at all levels generally protect this right in full, and do not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion.
Sixteen religious organizations have registered with the Ministry of the Interior, although registration is not mandatory. Religious organizations may register with the central authorities through their island-wide associations under the Temple Management Law, the Civic Organizations Law, or the chapter of the Civil Code that governs foundations and associations. While individual places of worship may register with local authorities, many choose not to register and operate as the personal property of their leaders. Registered organizations operate on a tax-free basis and are required to make annual reports of their financial operations. In the past, concern over abuse of tax-free privileges or other financial misdeeds occasionally prompted the authorities to deny registration to new religions whose doctrines were not clear, but there were no reports that the authorities sought to deny registration to new religions during the period covered by this report.
Foreign missionary groups operate freely.
The Ministry of the Interior promotes interfaith understanding among religious groups by sponsoring symposiums, or helping to defray the expenses of privately sponsored symposiums on religious issues.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
The authorities' policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion.
Religious instruction is not permitted at the elementary, middle, or high school levels in public or private schools which have been accredited by the Ministry of Education. Religious organizations are permitted to operate schools, but religious instruction is not permitted in those schools if they have been accredited by the Ministry of Education. If the schools are not formally accredited by the Ministry of Education, then they may provide religious instruction. High schools may provide general courses in religious studies, and universities and research institutions have religious studies departments. Religious organizations operate theological seminaries.
There are no religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the authorities' refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
In July 2000, the authorities implemented legislation providing for a civilian alternative to military service for conscientious objectors. The law benefited members of the Watchtower Society and others who previously had been imprisoned for failing to follow orders while in military service. In December 2000, the President granted a special amnesty to, and released, 19 conscientious objectors who had been imprisoned for refusing military service on religious grounds.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable. The Taiwan Council for Religion and Peace, the China Religious Believers Association, and the Taiwan Religious Association are private organizations that promote greater understanding and tolerance among adherents of the different religions. These associations and various religious groups occasionally sponsor symposiums to promote mutual understanding.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The American Institute in Taiwan is in frequent contact with representatives of human rights organizations and occasionally meets with leaders of various religious communities.