Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise and equal treatment under the law of all religions, which “shall not be restricted by law” except as necessary for reasons of protecting the freedoms of others, imminent danger, social order, or public welfare.

Religious organizations may voluntarily obtain an establishment permit from the MOI. The permit requires organizations to have real estate in at least seven administrative regions valued at 25 million New Taiwan dollars (NT$) ($835,000) or more and possess at least NT$5 million ($167,000) in cash. Alternatively, the organization may register if it possesses cash in excess of NT$30 million ($1 million). The organization may also apply for an establishment permit from local authorities to receive local benefits, which have lower requirements than the island-wide level.

More than 20 religious groups have establishment permits from Taiwan authorities. A group may register with the courts once it obtains the establishment permit. The group must provide an organizational charter, list of assets, and other administrative documents to register. Registered religious groups operate on an income tax-free basis, receive case-by-case exemptions from building taxes, and must submit annual reports on their financial operations. Nonregistered groups are not eligible for the tax advantages available to registered religious organizations.

Many individual places of worship choose not to register and instead operate as the personal property of their leaders. The Falun Gong is registered as a sports organization and not as a religious organization.

Authorities permit religious organizations to operate private schools. Authorities do not permit compulsory religious instruction in any MOE-accredited public or private elementary, middle, or high school. High schools accredited by the ministry may provide elective courses in religious studies, provided such courses do not promote certain religious beliefs over others.

Because of its unique status, Taiwan is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it enacted a domestic law in 2009 to adhere voluntarily to the covenant.

Government Practices

The labor law does not guarantee a weekly day off for domestic workers and caregivers, which continued to limit their ability to attend religious services. This problem was particularly salient among the island’s 258,500 foreign caregivers and household workers, predominately from Indonesia and the Philippines, who include Muslims and Catholics wanting to attend weekly religious services. Authorities said they viewed the domestic service workers’ inability to attend religious services as a part of a broader labor issue. Despite making another set of amendments to the labor law during the year, the Legislative Yuan once again did not address the issue of domestic service workers’ ability to attend religious services. Religious leaders, who said they had not expected the Legislative Yuan to resolve this issue anytime soon, had no reaction to the lack of progress. According to an MOL press release, the MOL made efforts to improve the situation, including by asking employers to respect foreign workers’ religion and allowing them to attend religious services and events.

The Tibet Religious Foundation reported Tibetan Buddhist monks continued to be unable to obtain resident visas for religious work it said the authorities typically granted to other religious practitioners. The monks had to fly to Thailand every two months to renew their visas. The monks did not have passports and instead traveled using Indian Identity Certificates (ICs); these certificates are issued to Tibetans who reside in India but do not have Indian citizenship and reportedly were valid for travel to all countries. The foundation stated the authorities continued to deny resident visas in accordance with Taiwan’s visa regulations. Taiwan authorities said they issued temporary religious visas to IC holders based on general rules governing foreigners who use travel permits and that denying resident visas was not for religious reasons.

Secretary General of the Chinese-Muslim Association Salahuddin Ma Chao-yen said as a way of explaining Taiwan’s increasing popularity for tourism by Muslims, “Taiwan has been continuing to improve the Muslim travel environment by increasing trainings, Muslim-friendly hotels, and halal restaurants by 20 percent annually.” Local authorities in Taoyuan, Taichung, Yunlin, Chiayi, and Yilan held Eid al-Fitr commemorations. Authorities continued to build new prayer rooms at public places such as train stations, libraries, and tourist destinations. In addition, Taiwan Adventist Hospital, became the first hospital certified as halal, as part of a collaboration with the Taipei City government seeking to boost medical tourism by making hospitals in the city more accommodating to Muslim visitors. In May the MOL issued a public reminder asking employers to allow flexible work arrangements for workers who observed Ramadan as their stamina might be reduced because of fasting.

MOI and city- and county-level governments were responsible for accepting complaints from workers who believed government or individuals violated their rights and interests for religious reasons. The MOI again said it did not receive any complaints of religious discrimination from workers.

In March President Tsai Ing-wen appointed Pusin Tali, Principal of the Yu-Shan Theological College and Seminary and a member of the indigenous Atayal tribe, as Taiwan’s first Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future