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Korea, Republic of


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects 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 U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.


Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 38,023 square miles, and its population is approximately 48 million. According to the 1995 government survey (when the population was 44,600,000), the country's major religions and the number of adherents of each at that time were: Buddhism, 10,321,012; Protestantism, 8,760,336; Roman Catholicism, 2,950,730; Confucianism, 210,927; Won Buddhism, 86,923; and other religions, 267,996. There were 21,593,000 citizens who did not practice any religion. While the population has increased since 1995, the percentage of adherents of each faith has remained approximately the same in recent years. The next survey will be conducted in 2005.

No official figures are available for the number of adherents of other religions, which include the Elijah Evangelical Church, the Jesus Morning Star Church, the All People's Holiness Church, Muslims, the Unification Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Buddhism has approximately 105 orders. The Catholic Church has 18 dioceses, including 1 based in Seoul. There are 170 Protestant denominations, including the Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches, and the Korean Gospel Church Assembly.

Among those practicing a faith, 41.7 percent reported that they attended religious services or rituals at a temple or church at least once per week. Six percent responded that they attended religious services 2 to 3 times per month; 9.4 percent attended once per month; 6.8 percent attended once every 2 to 3 months; 26.9 percent attended once per year; and 9.2 percent did not attend services. Among practicing Buddhists, 1.2 percent responded that they attended religious services. A total of 71.5 percent of Protestants and 60.4 percent of Catholics responded that they attended religious services.

There are approximately 180 Protestant and 6 Catholic missionary groups operating in the country. The Protestant groups include: Christians in Action, Korea; the Church of the Nazarene, Korea Mission; the Overseas Mission Fellowship; World Opportunities International, Korea Branch; World Vision; Global Mission Partnership; and Serving In-Land Mission. Among the Catholic missionary groups are the Missionaries of Guadeloupe, the Prado Sisters, and the Little Brothers of Jesus.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

There is no state religion, and the Government does not subsidize or favor a particular religion.

There are no government-established requirements for religious recognition. To protect cultural properties such as Buddhist temples, in 1987 the Government instituted the Traditional Temples Preservation Law. In accordance with this law, Buddhist temples receive some subsidies from the Government for their preservation and upkeep.

In accordance with the 1999 change in the Immigration Control Law, foreign missionary groups no longer are required to register with the Government.

The Government does not require or permit religious instruction in public schools. Private schools are free to hold religious activities.

The Religious Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism takes the lead in organizing groups such as the Korea Religious Council and the Council for Peaceful Religions to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding. The bureau also is responsible for planning regular events such as the Religion and Art Festival, the Seminar for Religious Leaders, and the Symposium for Religious Newspapers and Journalists.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

The Government currently provides no exemption or alternative civilian service for those who have a religious objection to duty in the armed forces. However, the issue of conscientious objectors is being debated by the public and in the courts. On May 21, the Seoul District Court, in an unprecedented decision, acquitted three conscientious objectors of criminal charges. Separately, the Constitutional Court is deliberating over a petition submitted in 2002 that seeks a ruling on whether the country's conscription law violates the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion. According to the Justice Ministry, at the end of the period covered by this report, 387 persons, most of whom are Jehovah's Witnesses, were imprisoned (serving sentences or awaiting trial in prison) for refusing to serve their military duty. They are allowed to conduct their own religious services in prison.

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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious leaders regularly meet both privately and under government auspices to promote mutual understanding and tolerance. These meetings are given wide and favorable coverage by the media.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. U.S. Embassy officials also meet regularly with members of various religious communities to discuss issues related to human rights.



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