Japan

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.  According to the Japan Uyghur Association (JUA), the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to have police officials in the PRC intimidate JUA members residing in Japan by contacting them and implying threats to their families residing in the PRC.  According to the JUA, the government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country and did not deport any to the PRC during the year.  According to the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in April for the first time granted refugee status to a female Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country based on the PRC’s religious repression of Falun Gong practitioners.  In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Naha city government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by allowing a Confucian temple to use public land at no cost.  Citing religious freedom, the government refrained from issuing specific COVID-19 regulations for places of worship, although all COVID-19 infection control measures were voluntary and constitutionally prohibited from being enforced.  The MOJ reported that in 2020 (latest statistics available), its human rights division received 116 inquiries related to potential religious freedom violations, compared with 224 in 2019, and confirmed four cases, compared with seven in 2019, as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees continued to express concern regarding the government’s interpretation of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which resulted in a low rate of approval of refugee applications.  According to available information, the ministry granted refugee status to two applicants based on a well-founded fear of persecution for religious reasons in 2020.  The government continued to grant special permits to stay on humanitarian grounds, or temporary stay permits, to most of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims who had entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma.

Muslim communities continued to report societal religious tolerance of their faith.  Several media outlets, however, reported that local communities, particularly in the western part of the country, remained reluctant to have Islamic cemeteries in their neighborhoods, as local residents were concerned that the Muslim tradition of burying a body could contaminate soil and water.

In meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with lawmakers, U.S. embassy officials encouraged the government to continue working with the United States to protect Muslims from the PRC and other countries otherwise restricting religious freedom.  The embassy used its social media platforms to highlight the importance of religious freedom.  In conversations and meetings with the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations (JAORO), as well as with leaders of religious groups and organizations representing religious minorities, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States places on respect for religious freedom, discussed issues faced by these communities, and advised some of them on outreach efforts with the government.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 124.7 million (midyear 2021).  A report by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA) indicates that membership in religious groups totaled 183 million as of December 31, 2019.  This number, substantially more than the country’s population, reflects many citizens’ affiliation with multiple religions.  For example, it is common for followers of Buddhism to participate in religious ceremonies and events of other religions, such as Shinto, and vice versa.  According to the ACA, the definition of follower and the method of counting followers vary with each religious organization.  Religious affiliation includes 88.9 million Shinto followers (48.6 percent), 84.8 million Buddhists (46.3 percent), 1.9 million Christians (1 percent), and 7.4 million adherents of other religious groups (4 percent).  The category of “other” and nonregistered religious groups includes Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Hinduism, and Judaism.

Most immigrants and foreign workers practice religions other than Buddhism or Shinto, according to an NGO in close contact with foreign workers.  A scholar estimates that at the end of 2019, there were approximately 230,000 Muslims in the country, including up to 50,000 Japanese converts.  Most of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims in the country live in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, with some residing in Saitama, Chiba, and Tokyo, according to Burmese Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ) President Zaw Min Htut.  Ilham Mahmut, the JUA honorary chairman and World Uyghur Congress Representative for East Asia and the Pacific, said most of the nearly 2,000 Uyghur Muslims in the country reside in Tokyo or its surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa.  He states that of the nearly 2,000 Uyghur Muslims, approximately 700 are naturalized Japanese citizens.  The Jewish population is approximately 3,000 to 4,000, according to a long-term member of the Jewish community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and requires the state to refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.  It prohibits religious organizations from exercising any political authority or receiving privileges from the state.  It states that the people shall not abuse their rights and shall be responsible to use their rights for the public welfare.

The government does not require religious groups to register or apply for certification, but certified religious groups with corporate status do not have to pay income tax on donations and religious offerings used as part of their operational and maintenance expenses akin to nonprofit organizations.  The government requires religious groups applying for corporate status to prove they have a physical space for worship and that their primary purpose is disseminating religious teachings, conducting religious ceremonies, and educating and nurturing believers.  An applicant must present, in writing, a three-year record of activities as a religious organization, a list of members and religious teachers, the rules of the organization, information about the method of making decisions on managing assets, statements of income and expenses for the past three years, and a list of assets.  The law stipulates prefectural governors have jurisdiction over groups seeking corporate status in their respective prefecture, and that groups must apply for registration with prefectural governments.  Exceptions are granted for groups with offices in multiple prefectures, which they may register with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT).  After the MEXT Minister or a prefectural governor confirms an applicant meets the legal definition of a certified religious group with corporate status, the law requires the applicant to formulate administrative rules pertaining to its purpose, core personnel, and financial affairs.  Applicants become religious corporations only after the MEXT Minister or governor approves their application and the applicants subsequently register.

The law requires certified religious corporations to disclose their assets, income, and expenditures to the government.  The law also authorizes the government to investigate possible violations of regulations governing for-profit activities.  Authorities have the right to suspend a religious corporation’s for-profit activities for up to one year if the group violates the regulations.

The law stipulates that worship and religious rituals performed by inmates in penal institutions, alone or in a group, shall not be prohibited.  To support the law and the constitutional right to religious freedom, the MOJ offers inmates access to volunteer chaplains from various faiths in prisons.

The law states that schools established by the national and local governments must refrain from religious education or other activities in support of a specific religion.  Private schools are permitted to teach specific religions.  The law also states that an attitude of religious tolerance and general knowledge regarding religion and its position in social life should be valued in education.  Both public and private schools must develop curricula in line with MEXT standards.  These standards are based on the law, which states that schools should give careful consideration when teaching religion in general to junior high and high school students.

Labor law states a person may not be disqualified from union membership on the basis of religion.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau deported a male Rohingya Muslim in March for illegal overstay.  He had previously applied for refugee status in Japan based on religious persecution in Burma, according to a copy of a document submitted to the Tokyo District Court in June and provided to the MOJ, the umbrella ministry of the Immigration Services Bureau.  According to the document, the man voluntarily abided by the deportation order by waiving his right to request reexamination.  He departed the country via commercial air at his own expense.  The deportee’s attorney requested in June that the immigration services bureau confirm the man’s safety in Burma, but the immigration services bureau did not respond to the inquiry, according to his attorney.  According to an associate of the deported individual, after being deported to Burma, he was detained by the Burmese military regime at an airport but was later released.  His attorney learned from a contact that as of October, he lived in Burma under the surveillance of the regime.  His attorney condemned the deportation, saying it posed a life-threatening risk to the deportee due to the changed civil society landscape precipitated by the February 1 Burmese military coup.

According to the JUA honorary chairman, the PRC continued its practice of using police officials in the PRC to intimidate JUA members residing in Japan.  He stated that PRC police officials contacted JUA members in Japan, implying risks to the safety of their families in the PRC and offering monetary assistance in exchange for providing information about the JUA’s activities and other cooperation.  He also said the PRC embassy in Tokyo restricted Uyghur Muslims in the country from renewing their passports by requiring renewal applicants to disclose their ethnicity.  According to the JUA honorary chairman, the Japanese government generally showed willingness to protect Uyghur Muslims in the country.  He said the government did not deport any Uyghur Muslims to the PRC during the year.  While he expressed continued concern regarding potential bias against Uyghur Muslims applying for refugee status at some government immigration centers, he said the government took measures to rectify past concerns.

According to the president of the Japanese Falun Dafa Association, the PRC embassy in Tokyo displayed propaganda on its website that disparaged the Falun Gong.  The president said a person of unidentified nationality vandalized an association signboard near the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau.  According to the president, the MOJ in April for the first time granted refugee status to a female Falun Gong practitioner residing in the country based on the PRC’s religious repression of Falun Gong practitioners.

In February, the Supreme Court ruled that the Naha city government violated the constitutional separation of religion and state by allowing a Confucian temple to use public land at no cost.  The city government exempted the temple from paying an annual rent of 5.75 million yen ($50,000) on the grounds that the temple served as a tourist attraction.  The court, however, ruled the public could conclude the municipal government was supporting a specific religion, which is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of religion, and it ordered the city to charge the organization the full rent.

In July, an immigration facility in Nagoya apologized for giving a foreign male detainee a meal containing ingredients forbidden by his religion.  The facility stated it had issued an apology to the man and would make efforts to treat each detainee appropriately.

Citing religious freedom, the government refrained from issuing COVID-19 regulations specific to places of worship, which were requested to comply with the government’s general nonbinding infection-prevention measures, which were constitutionally prohibited from being enforced.

The JAORO said that the national government did not allow religious groups with corporate status to access some of the government’s welfare payment and subsidy for those businesses and individuals financially impacted by COVID-19.  The JAORO stated that the government interpreted the constitution’s provision on separation of religion and state in an excessively rigorous manner, saying the government’s denial of access for religious groups with corporate status was discriminatory.  The government stated, however, that the denial was due to the groups’ corporate status.

According to the JAORO, some local municipalities, including Minato and Suginami wards (cities) in Tokyo Prefecture, collaborated with religious groups with corporate status to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as using facilities of religious groups with corporate status as sites for mass vaccination organized by the municipalities.  In January, the ACA officially expressed a view that activities by religious groups with corporate status that contribute to society, including activities for countering disaster and assisting communities, could be interpreted as religious activities.  This was a change from the previous interpretation of such activities conducted by religious groups with corporate status as enterprises for public welfare by law.  The JAORO said the new interpretation helped expand the role of religious groups in society.

The MOJ’s Human Rights Bureau continued to operate its hotline for human rights inquiries available in six different foreign languages – English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, and Vietnamese.  In May, the MOJ reported that in 2020 (latest statistics available), its human rights division received 116 inquiries of cases of potential violations of religious freedom out of 10,668 suspected human rights violations overall, compared with 224 inquiries related to religious freedom violations in 2019.  It confirmed four cases (compared with seven in 2019) as highly likely to be religious freedom violations.  The MOJ assisted the potential victims in all four cases by mediating between the parties, calling on alleged human rights violators to rectify their behavior, or referring the complainants to competent authorities for legal advice.  These MOJ measures, however, were not legally binding.

According to the ACA, central and prefectural governments had certified 180,828 groups as religious groups with corporate status as of the end of 2019, the most recent statistics available.  The large number reflected local units of religious groups registering separately.  The government generally certified corporate status for religious groups when they met the requirements.

NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees continued to express concern regarding the government’s interpretation of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its protocol, which resulted in a low rate of approval of refugee applications.  Civil society and legal groups also expressed concern regarding what they stated were restrictive screening procedures that led applicants to voluntarily withdraw their applications and accept deportation, citing 3,936 individuals who applied for refugee status in 2020, down 62 percent from 10,375 applicants in 2019.  They specifically stated that the government’s interpretation of “well-founded fear of persecution” used when adjudicating refugee claims was overly restrictive.  The government granted refugee status to 47 applicants in 2020 (latest statistics available).  According to available information, the ministry granted refugee status to two applicants based on a well-founded fear of persecution for religious reasons in 2020.  In one case, the MOJ determined the applicant had a well-founded fear of being persecuted by his or her government for converting from one religion to another religion.

The government maintained its practice of granting special permits to stay in country on humanitarian grounds, or temporary stay permits, to most of the Rohingya Muslims who had entered the country on the basis of ethnic and religious persecution in Burma.  The majority of those individuals had resided in the country for more than 10 years – some for more than 20 years – and were allowed to be employed and required regular renewal of their status by regional immigration offices.  Of the approximately 350 Rohingya Muslims in the country, the government granted refugee status to five individuals in September in addition to the 18 Rohingya Muslims who already had refugee status, according to BRAJ President Zaw Min Htut.  The BRAJ president also said approximately 20 Rohingya Muslims had a pending application for refugee status and were not associated with any formal resettlement program, were prohibited from obtaining employment, and faced hardships, including lack of health care.  These applicants’ children were born in the country and therefore remained effectively stateless.

According to the JUA, the government has granted citizenship through naturalization to approximately 700 Uyghur Muslims, in addition to permits to remain in the country for the remaining 1300 Uyghur Muslims, most of whom came to the country from the PRC initially to study or work.  The government did not deport any Uyghur Muslims during the year.

Civil society groups also reported that it takes an average of three years for an applicant to be recognized as a refugee, and some cases involving multiple appeals have lasted 10 years.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim communities continued to report societal religious tolerance of their faith.  Several media outlets, however, stated that local communities, particularly in the western part of the country, continued to be reluctant to have Islamic cemeteries in their neighborhoods, citing local residents’ concerns that the Muslim tradition of burying a body could contaminate soil and water (cremation is a widespread practice in the country).  Due to this concern, the Beppu Muslim Association faced opposition from some residents to its plan submitted to local authorities in 2019 for a permit to build an Islamic cemetery on land that it owns in Hiji Town, Oita Prefecture.  The association reportedly petitioned the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare to establish at least one public burial site in each prefecture or designate one section of existing public cemeteries for Islamic burials to remedy a shortage of burial sites for Muslims.  The ministry reportedly acknowledged in June that it recognized the issue and would seek advice from concerned municipalities.  According to press reports, the Hiji Town government organized talks between the residents and the Beppu Muslim Association on November 5 to find a solution.  In the talks, residents reportedly proposed another site owned by the town government as an alternative.  They reportedly assessed the alternative site would be unlikely to contaminate water because of its topography and the lack of contamination from a nearby monastery that also buries deceased individuals in the soil.  Hiji Mayor Honda Hirofumi publicly stated that making progress on the issue would be possible should residents and the Beppu Muslim Association agree on the alternative site.  A representative of the Beppu Muslim Association publicly said the alternative site would be acceptable as long as the residents concurred with the association’s use of the site.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games fired the director of the opening ceremonies, Kobayashi Kentaro, one day before the event when a video showing Kobayashi making a joke about the Holocaust in 1998 surfaced.  The committee called the conduct “unacceptable,” and Kobayashi issued an apology shortly thereafter.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with lawmakers, embassy officials encouraged the government to continue to work with the United States to protect Muslims originating from the PRC and from other countries that otherwise restrict religious freedoms.

The embassy continued to use its social media platforms in both Japanese and English to highlight the importance of religious freedom, including amplifying messages of the importance of religious freedom as a human right.

In conversations and meetings with the JAORO, as well as with leaders of religious groups and organizations representing religious minorities, including Rohingya and Uyghur Muslims and the Jewish and Falun Gong communities, embassy officials underscored the priority the United States places on respect for religious freedom, discussed issues faced by these communities, and advised some of them on their outreach efforts with the national government and local municipalities.

Micronesia

Executive Summary

The constitution states no law may be passed to establish a state religion or impair the free exercise of religion.  Senior government officials regularly met with religious leaders to promote the government’s commitment to freedom of religion.  Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some U.S. missionaries, church workers, and religious teachers from various churches departed the country.  Multiple religious leaders reported many of their staff and congregation members had to remain outside the country due to travel restrictions.  At year’s end, the backlog of returnees outpaced the limited number of repatriation seats available.  The government continued to provide grants to private, church-affiliated schools and continued to state it made no distinction between public and private schools in its grant programs.  All private schools were either Catholic or Protestant.

The Ahmadi Muslim community that had previously been established at a community center in Pohnpei State was inactive during the year due to the community organizers being off-island as a result of COVID-19-related travel restrictions.  Ahmadi Muslims reported that the closure of the center was not due to any mistreatment of their community.  The Interdenominational Council in Pohnpei stated it encouraged unity among religious groups by addressing local social problems and promoting cooperation among religious communities.  The council was inactive for most of the year as a result of key members being unable to return to the country due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but it restarted monthly meetings in November.

U.S. embassy officers held discussions with senior government officials and local religious leaders to promote religious inclusion and tolerance, including in Pohnpei and Yap States.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102,000 (midyear 2021).  According to government statistics, approximately 99 percent of the population identifies as Christian.  Several Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church are present in all four states.  According to government statistics, 55 percent of residents are Catholic and 42 percent are Protestant.  The United Church of Christ is the main Protestant denomination.  Other Christian groups include Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Church, the Apostolic Church, the Salvation Army, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Church of Jesus Christ counts its membership as approximately 6,300 members.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses state they have approximately 10,000 followers throughout the country.  Other religious groups exist in small numbers, with a variable expatriate population of Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, the most recent published on folk religions in the country, 2.7 percent of the population followed folk religions.  Informally, many in the country combine Christian beliefs with traditional indigenous beliefs in spirits, magic, and communing with the dead.  Funerals usually include some aspects incorporating traditional beliefs.

In Kosrae State, 90 percent of the population is Protestant, with the United Church of Christ the most prominent denomination.  In Pohnpei State, the population is divided evenly between Protestants and Catholics, although more Protestants live on the western side and more Catholics live on the eastern side.  In Chuuk State, an estimated 60 percent is Catholic and 40 percent Protestant.  In Yap State, an estimated 80 percent of the population is Catholic and the remainder Protestant.  Religious affiliation often follows clan lines.

The majority of foreign workers are Filipinos, who number more than 1,000 and are mostly Catholic.  The Fijian community comprises fewer than 100 individuals and is predominately Christian.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion or of governmental restrictions on freedom of religion.  The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion.  It states, “No law may deny or impair freedom of expression, peaceable assembly, association, or petition,” and “No law may be passed respecting an establishment of religion or impairing the free exercise of religion.”  The constitution also says that the traditions of the country are protected by statute and that if a statute protecting a tradition is challenged as violating rights provided in the constitution, protection of the tradition “shall be considered a compelling social purpose warranting…governmental action.”

Religious entities are required to register as nonprofit organizations to be exempt from taxation.

While there is no religious education in public schools, private schools teach religion in addition to the curriculum established by the Department of Education.  The government may fund nonreligious activities in religiously affiliated schools.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Senior government officials regularly met with religious leaders to promote the government’s commitment to freedom of religion.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some U.S. missionaries, church workers, and religious teachers from the Church of Jesus Christ, the United Church of Christ, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Seventh-day Adventists departed the country.  The government closed its borders to international travelers from March 2020 to May 2021, and multiple religious leaders reported many of their staff and congregation members had to remain outside the country.  At year’s end, the backlog of returnees outpaced the limited number of repatriation seats available.

The government continued to provide grants to private, church-affiliated schools and continued to state it made no distinction between public and private schools in its grant programs.  All private schools are either Catholic or Protestant.  There are no non-Christian religious schools in the country.

National and state government events routinely opened and closed with a prayer, invocation, or benediction from a Protestant or Catholic clergy member, and often two, one from each group.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The Ahmadi Muslim community that had previously been established at a community center in Pohnpei State was inactive during the year due to the community organizers being off-island due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions.  Ahmadi Muslims reported that the closure of the center was not due to any mistreatment of their community.  The community moved from Kosrae to Pohnpei in 2017.

The Interdenominational Council in Pohnpei stated it encouraged unity among religious groups by addressing local social problems such as drug abuse and suicide and by assisting the government’s task force with anti-human-trafficking efforts, as well as by promoting cooperation among religious communities.  Council officials noted that the council met annually with other religious groups in the country to promote unity and cooperation, for example, by implementing measures to assure social distancing at church services.  The council was inactive for most of the year as a result of key members being unable to return to the country due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions, but it restarted monthly meetings in November.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials met with senior government officials and local religious leaders to stress the primacy of the constitution and its provisions regarding religious freedom over local laws or practices.

Embassy officials met in Pohnpei and Yap States with representatives of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Yap Catholic High School, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, and Pacific Mission Fellowship to discuss religious tolerance, interdenominational cooperation, and ways their congregations could help support local shelters for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

Mongolia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and religion, prohibits discrimination based on religion, and mandates the separation of the activities of state and religious institutions.  The law requires religious institutions to register with authorities but provides little detail on registration procedures, leaving local authorities to decide most of the specifics of implementation.  The law prohibits hindering the free exercise of faith but limits proselytization.  Despite being listed on the legislative agenda for the autumn session, there was no information on the status or content of a draft update to the Law on the Relations Between the State and Religious Institutions, which has not seen progress since drafting began and stopped in 2018.  Some Christian and Buddhist groups reported continued difficulties or extended delays obtaining and renewing registration for their groups or their places of worship, or obtaining religious visas in some localities, reportedly due in part to the government’s desire to delay the issuance of new religious group registrations until after parliament passes a new religion law.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government prohibited all in-person religious activities most of the year, and restrictions on religious gatherings were lifted later than restrictions on other types of indoor gatherings, leading some churches to report that they believed the government was discriminating against religion.  Since October, the government allowed religious groups to conduct meetings and services upon entering into an “accountability agreement,” a pledge to comply with precautionary measures set by the applicable local government.  In January, the National Institute of Security Studies, a government think tank, published an article stating that foreign religions in the country have reached a level that could affect national unity and sovereignty and suggested that the state must “respect the dominance of Buddhist religion[.]”

Religious leaders from a variety of faiths cited instances of negative popular sentiment toward “foreign” religious groups, a term they said was sometimes used to refer to non-Buddhist and non-Shamanist religious groups.  Religious groups engaged in joint humanitarian and charitable activities.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious freedom concerns, including registration difficulties faced by religious groups and the renewal of religious visas, with high level officials in the Office of the President, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, parliamentarians, provincial governments, and the Ulaanbaatar City Council.  The Ambassador and embassy officials met regularly with religious leaders in Ulaanbaatar to discuss religious freedom and tolerance and the effect of COVID-19 restrictions on their communities.  The Ambassador met with religious leaders in Bayankhongor and Darkhan-Uul Provinces in September and October, and an embassy official held similar meetings in Khentii, Bayan-Ulgii, and Khovd Provinces in September and October.  The embassy regularly promoted religious freedom on social media.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 3.3 million (midyear 2021).  The most recent national census conducted in 2020 reports that 59.4 percent of individuals who are 15 and older identify as religious, while 40.6 percent state they have no religious identity.  Of those who expressed a religious identity, 87.1 percent identify as Buddhist, 5.4 percent as Muslim, 4.2 percent as Shamanist, 2.2 percent as Christian, and 1.1 percent as followers of other religions.  The majority of Buddhists are Mahayana Buddhists.  Many individuals practice elements of shamanism in combination with other religions, particularly Buddhism.  The majority of Christians are Protestant.  Other Christian groups in the country include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Roman Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church).  Other religious groups, including the Baha’i Faith, also have a presence.  The ethnic Kazakh community, located primarily in the far west, is majority Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution lists freedom of conscience and religion among the enumerated rights and freedoms guaranteed to citizens.  The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion.  It prohibits the state from engaging in religious activity and religious institutions from pursuing political activities.  The constitution specifies that the relationship between the state and religious institutions shall be regulated by law.  The constitution states that in exercising their rights, persons “shall not infringe on the national security, rights, and freedoms of others or violate public order.”  It further provides that the state shall respect all religions, and religions shall honor the state.  The Law on the Relationship between the State and Religious Institutions says that the state shall respect “the dominant position of Buddhism” in the country “in order to respect and uphold the traditions of the unity and civilization of the people.”  It furthers states, “This shall not prevent citizens from following other religions.”

Under the criminal code, it is an offense to have used or threatened the use of force to hinder the activities or rituals of religious organizations, with penalties including a fine ranging from 450,000 to 2.7 million tugriks ($160-$950), a community service obligation of 240-720 hours, and/or a travel ban ranging from one to six months.  If a religious organization or religious representative, such as a priest, minister, imam, monk, or shaman, is found to have engaged in proselytization through force, pressure, or deception, or to have spread “cruel” religious ideology, penalties may include a fine of 450,000 to 5.4 million tugriks ($160-$1,900), a travel ban of six to 12 months, and/or six to 12 months’ imprisonment.  The law does not define what constitutes “cruel” religious ideology.

The law on petty offenses provides for fines of 100,000 tugriks ($35) for individuals and one million tugriks ($350) for legal entities found to have recruited children to convert to or adopt a religion against their will.  The law provides for a fine of 100,000 tugriks ($35) for individuals and one million tugriks ($350) for any legal entity for disclosing an individual’s religion on identity documents without that person’s consent or for interfering with the internal affairs of a religious organization unless otherwise allowed by law.  The law also provides for a fine of 150,000 tugriks ($53) for individuals and 1.5 million tugriks ($530) for legal religious entities for conducting government or political activity or financing any such activity.  The law specifies a fine of 300,000 tugriks ($110) for individuals and three million tugriks ($1,100) for legal entities for organizing religious training or gatherings on public premises, including schools.

The religion law forbids the spread of religious views by “force, pressure, material incentives, deception, or means that harm health or morals or are psychologically damaging.”  It also prohibits the use of gifts for religious recruitment.  The law on children’s rights provides children the freedom to practice their faith.

The religion law prohibits religious groups from undertaking activities that “are inhumane or dangerous to the tradition and culture of the people of Mongolia,” although there are no stated standards or legal definitions for what constitutes such activities.

Religious groups must register with local and provincial authorities, as well as with the General Authority for State Registration (General Authority), to function legally.  National law provides limited detail on registration procedures and does not stipulate the duration of registration, allowing local and provincial authorities to set their own rules.  Religious groups must renew their registrations (in most cases annually) with multiple government institutions across local, provincial, and national levels.  Each individual branch (or place of worship) of a religious organization is required to register or renew as an independent legal entity, regardless of any affiliation with a registered parent organization.  Some local authorities require children under the age of 16 to provide written parental permission to participate in church activities.

A religious group must provide the following documentation to the relevant local provincial or municipal representative assembly when applying for registration:  a letter requesting registration, a letter from the lower-level local authority granting approval to conduct religious services, a brief description of the group, the group’s charter, documentation on the group’s founding, a list of leaders, financial information, a declaration of assets (including any real estate owned), a lease or rental agreement (if applicable), brief biographic information on individuals wishing to conduct religious services, and the expected number of worshippers.  A religious group must provide the General Authority its approved registration application to receive a certificate for operation.

The renewal process requires a religious group to obtain a reference letter from the lower-level local authority (district/soum level) to be submitted with the required documents (updated as necessary) to the local provincial or municipal representative assembly.  During the renewal process, the local provincial or municipal representatives commonly request a safety inspection of the religious organization’s offices and places of worship and will order remediation of any deficiencies found.  Upon approval, the relevant provincial or municipal representative assembly issues a resolution granting the religious institution permission to continue operations, and the organization sends a copy of the approved registration renewal to the General Authority, which enters the new validity dates on the religious institution’s certificate for operation.

Public and private educational institutions are entitled to state funding for their secular curricula but are prohibited from using state funding for religious curricula.  The education law prohibits all educational institutions from conducting any religious training, rituals, or activities with state-provided funding.  A provincial or municipal representative assembly may deny registration renewals for religious groups that violate the ban on using state funding for the provision of religious instruction in educational institutions.

The law regulating civil and military service specifies that all male citizens between ages 18 and 25 must complete one year of compulsory military service.  The law provides for alternatives to military service for citizens who submit an objection based on ethical or religious grounds.  Alternative service with the Border Forces, National Emergency Management Agency, or a humanitarian organization is available to those who submit an ethical or religious objection.  There is also a provision for paying the cost of one year’s training and upkeep for a soldier in lieu of service.

Under the labor law, all legal entities, including religious institutions, must hire a stipulated number of citizens for every foreign employee hired.  The government sets an annual quota in the form of a resolution, and this quota changes every year for each labor sector listed in the resolution.  Groups not specified in the annual quota list must ensure 95 percent of their employees are citizens, and that additional foreign employees may be hired only if the 95 percent quota is met and maintained.  The annual resolution, however, uniquely stipulates that religious groups could employ one foreign worker if they employed at least five Mongolian citizens and must meet and maintain no less than this one-to-five hiring ratio.

The law regulating the legal status of foreign nationals prohibits noncitizens from advertising, promoting, or practicing “inhumane” religions that could damage the national culture.  The religion law includes a similar prohibition on religious institutions, both foreign and domestic, conducting “inhumane” or culturally damaging activities within the country.

Foreigners seeking to conduct religious activities, including proselytizing, must obtain religious visas, and all foreigners are prohibited from proselytizing, promoting, and practicing religion that violates the “national culture” and law.  Only registered religious groups may sponsor foreigners for religious visas.  Foreigners who enter the country on other classes of visas are not allowed to undertake activities that advertise or promote any religion (as distinct from personal worship or other individual religious activity, which is permitted).  Under the law, “Engag[ing] in business other than one’s purpose for coming” constitutes grounds for deportation.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government has stated its intent to pass a new law on religion since 2018 but observers stated that concerns on all sides delayed passage beyond the end of 2021.  Despite its being listed on the legislative agenda for the autumn session, there was no information on the status or content of the draft update to the law on religion.  Some government officials cited the lack of an updated religion law as a reason for their inability to process new registration applications submitted by religious groups.

Representatives of several religious groups, including Christian and Buddhist groups, stated that government authorities were not processing registration applications for new religious buildings in Ulaanbaatar, which an Ulaanbaatar City Council official, citing the need to wait for approval of updates to the law, said was the case.  However, city officials processed registration renewal applications for existing buildings.  Registration and renewal procedures continued to vary significantly across the country, largely depending upon the divergent practices of local government officials.  According to several religious organizations, registration delays could affect a group’s ability to employ foreign religious workers, as valid registration is required to sponsor a religious worker.

The Ulaanbaatar City Council continued to issue renewals valid for one year, but some religious groups continued to cite prolonged delays in processing.  Other provincial and municipal representative assemblies issued renewals for either two or three years.  An Ulaanbaatar City Council official said Christian groups continued to constitute the majority of those seeking registration and renewal.  Christian leaders continued to attribute the difficulty in obtaining visas for religious workers mainly to delays in the processing of such renewals.  Christian and other religious groups stated other deterrents to registration included the difficulty and expense of establishing a dedicated, regular worship site and changing government personnel.  Groups continued to state that the requirement that each local branch of the organization separately register or renew as an independent legal entity apart from its parent organization created additional bureaucratic burdens.

Ulaanbaatar City Council officials again stated that the government used the registration and renewal process to assess the activities of the religious group, monitor the number of places of worship and clergy, determine the ratio of foreigners to nationals conducting religious activities, and determine whether their facilities met safety requirements.  City Council officials said approval of applications that were ostensibly “denied” were more accurately “postponed” due to incomplete documentation and the poor physical condition of the place of worship, such as the lack of a proper fire exit or missing property lease agreements.  In such cases, officials directed the religious organization to correct the deficiencies and resubmit its applications.  Some Christian groups continued to state that the government inconsistently applied and interpreted regulations, changing procedures frequently and without notice.  Some religious groups continued to state the registration and renewal process was arbitrary in some instances and that prolonged delays left them without any appeal mechanism during the waiting period.

Some Christian religious leaders said temporary unregistered status could leave their organizations vulnerable to financial audit and possible legal action.  Several groups, however, reported they continued to operate normally, despite the fact that their renewal applications had remained pending for years.

Shamanist leaders continued to express concerns that the requirement for a registered place of worship placed limitations on their religion because of its practice of worshipping outdoors.

Unregistered churches lacked official documents establishing themselves as legal entities and as a result could not own or lease land, file tax returns, or formally communicate with the government.  Individual members of unregistered churches typically continued to own or lease property for church use in their personal capacity.  Some unregistered religious groups said they often could still function, although some reported experiencing frequent visits by local tax officials, police, and representatives from other government agencies.

According to a Christian group, the local government in Darkhan-Uul Province renewed the registrations of six Christian churches that the Darkhan-Uul Provincial Council suspended in 2020 for failure to renew their expired registrations on time.

President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, who was elected in June, reinstated the position of advisor to the President on cultural and religious policy and appointed D. Bum-Ochir to the position.  The former president had eliminated the position more than a year earlier, stating it was inconsistent with the constitutional separation of state and religious institutions.

Cornerstone Church of All Nations, which reported experiencing renewal difficulties for more than one year, was approved in May.  Other religious organizations reported they had positive relationships with local and district level authorities but that a lack of understanding of the regulations governing religious organizations among some Ulaanbaatar City Council officials and provincial authorities resulted in the delayed processing of registration and renewal applications.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report that the registration application for the Evangelizers of Good News of Holy Scriptures – their organization’s legal entity in Ulaanbaatar’s Nalaikh District – remained pending with the Ulaanbaatar City Council.  This was despite a 2017 Ulaanbaatar Court of First Instance ruling that struck down the city council’s argument that the congregation posed a potential threat to national security.  Although the city council had as a result revoked its decision to annul the group’s registration, it took no affirmative action to renew it.  In October, the group submitted a new application for renewal and at year’s end was awaiting a determination from the district council.

A January report of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) contained a complaint filed with the NHRC on religious freedom in the prior year in which the chairman of a county council in Zavkhan Province stated that the opposition Democratic Party had refused to appoint him because he was a Christian.

Religious groups continued to experience periodic audits, usually by officers from tax, immigration, local government, intelligence, and other agencies.  Religious leaders said such audits typically took place once in a two-year period, but some inspection visits reportedly followed routine submissions of registration renewal applications.  Because religious organizations remained closed most of the year due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the government did not conduct additional inspections beyond routine ones, according to religious groups.

There were no reports of local authorities restricting unaccompanied minors’ participation in Christian religious services due to stated fears of “brainwashing” as in past years, although due to COVID-19 restrictions, churches suspended in-person religious services for much of the year.  Children under the age of 16 required written parental permission to participate in church activities in some areas.  The government required churches to retain this document in church records and make it available upon request.  According to the Christian groups, the government enforced this requirement more strictly on Christian groups compared with other religious groups.

Some foreign nationals continued to face difficulties obtaining religious visas.  Some religious groups noted that because the law required religious groups to hire at least five local employees for each sponsored foreign worker, some groups could not afford to hire enough local employees to meet this hiring ratio.  Christian groups reported foreign missionaries seeking to enter the country often did so under nonreligious visas (such as student, teacher, or business visas), which legally restricted them from conducting activities allowed under religious visas.  They stated that inconsistent interpretations of the activities in which they could legally engage left them vulnerable to deportation, although there were no known instances of this occurring during the year.

The validity of religious visas remained linked to a religious organization’s registration, which some Christian religious groups said resulted in additional visa process or renewal challenges.  Foreign citizens could not receive or renew a religious visa unless their religious organization’s registration or renewal was already granted.  The visa validity period corresponded with, and could not exceed, the registration validity of the holder’s sponsoring organization.  COVID-19-related border closures also created challenges for religious groups seeking to sponsor foreign religious workers.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government prohibited all religious in-person activities most of the year.  However, starting in October, religious organizations could again conduct in-house services provided they signed an “accountability agreement” with local governments, including their pledge to comply with restrictions and precautionary measures set by the government.  Several religious groups said the government’s decision to maintain restrictions on religious services long after lifting restrictions on indoor activities for other establishments, such as restaurants and movie theaters, demonstrated discrimination against religion.  A Christian group reported that not all churches had reopened for in-house services by the end of the year, as the process to request and obtain approval for the agreement took time and required an inspection of the facilities by local officials.

While the law allowed citizens who had ethical or religious objections to military service to carry out alternative civilian service, a representative of the Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that this alternative option still required the citizen’s participation in a two-week military drill organized by the military leadership of the relevant locality.  Another alternative to mandatory military service was to pay the equivalent of the costs associated with one year’s training and upkeep for one soldier, an excessive financial burden beyond the means of most of its members, the association stated.  None of the members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community were called up for military service this year, due to the pandemic.

In January, 54 legislators submitted a draft law to parliament on Reimbursement for the Restoration of Tangible and Intangible Buddhist Heritage.  Seeking to address physical and cultural damage from communist rule in the 1930s, the draft law called for the allocation of 0.1 percent of the state budget to projects aimed at restoring the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Buddhist religion.  Parliament’s standing committee postponed debate on the draft law indefinitely, citing budget constraints.  The government continued to allocate funding for the restoration of several Buddhist sites it stated were important religious, historical, and cultural centers.

In January, the National Institute of Security Studies, a government think tank, published an article titled “Religious Concept and Threat of Terrorism” that studied the potential risks of foreign religions.  It concluded that foreign religions in the country had reached a level that could affect national unity and sovereignty and suggested the state must “respect the dominance of Buddhist religion for upholding the unity of the people of Mongolia and heritage of traditional culture.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religious leaders from a variety of faiths cited instances of negative popular sentiment toward “foreign” religious groups, a term they said was sometimes used to refer to non-Buddhist and non-Shamanist religious groups.  A January report of the NHRC contained a complaint filed with the NHRC on religious freedom in the prior year in which a citizen asserted that a Christian church conducted “forced proselytization.”

Religious groups engaged in joint humanitarian and charitable activities.  The Mongolian Muslim Societies Federation and the Church of Jesus Christ, for example, together implemented a humanitarian project in Bayan-Ulgii Province in October.  The 60-million-tugrik ($21,100) project delivered warm blankets, desks, and chairs to children in Bayan-Ulgii Province.  On Buddha Purneema Day on May 26, Dashichoiling Monastery and the Church of Jesus Christ together cleaned the central square of Ulaanbaatar to raise public awareness for religious tolerance.  Around 50 volunteers from the two groups took part and there was wide media reporting about the event.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and other embassy officials regularly discussed religious freedom with government officials and shared the U.S. government’s concerns regarding registration and visa difficulties religious groups reported at the national, local, and provincial levels.  The Ambassador and other embassy officers encouraged officials to enhance efforts to protect religious freedom and underscored the value of dialogue between the government and religious communities during meetings with parliamentarians and high level officials in President Khurelsukh’s office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, the Ulaanbaatar City Council, and provincial and municipal governments.

The Ambassador routinely visited religious sites and temples and met with local religious leaders in Ulaanbaatar and in his travels outside Ulaanbaatar.  In November, the Ambassador hosted a roundtable for religious leaders from Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and other faiths in Ulaanbaatar.  In September and October, the Ambassador met with local Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim leaders in Bayankhongor and Darkhan-Uul Provinces for interfaith discussions on the status of religious freedom in rural areas.  In October, the Ambassador hosted Catholic leaders to learn about how their community was being affected by COVID-19-related restrictions.  During September and October visits to Khentii, Khovd, and Bayan-Ulgii Provinces, an embassy official discussed the importance of religious freedom and tolerance with provincial authorities and met with local Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian leaders.  The embassy also regularly promoted religious freedom on social media.  For example, the Ambassador tweeted in Mongolian and English about his visits to religious sites and meetings with religious leaders across the country’s diverse faith communities.

Palau

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion.  On January 18, the government celebrated the annual National Day of Prayer that “welcome[d] all expressions of religion…without reservation or reproach.”

Activities to promote religious freedom included a Christmas celebration in Koror featuring Christian songs and prayers offered by various denominations.  Leaders from traditional religious groups continued to convene for cultural and government events across the country at times during the year.

On July 2, the U.S. Ambassador conducted a discussion with guests from church-affiliated high schools.  Visiting U.S. forces in the country for exercises and other civil engagements regularly deployed with military chaplains, who engaged with religious communities.  Between June and October, a visiting chaplain from the U.S. Army contacted the Evangelical Church and discussed the effect of drugs and alcohol abuse on families and the community.  A U.S. Navy chaplain visited for several months as part of exercise “Koa Moana” and met with the Seventh-day Adventist congregation and other faith groups and participated in a number of public discussions on topics that included youth suicide in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 22,000 (midyear 2021).  According to the 2015 national census, approximately 45 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.  Other religious groups include the Evangelical Church (26.4 percent); Seventh-day Adventists (6.9 percent); Modekngei, an indigenous religious group embracing both animist and Christian beliefs (5.7 percent); and Muslims (3 percent), primarily Bangladeshi nationals.  Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Baptists, adherents of the Assemblies of God, and other religious groups make up approximately 13 percent of the population, combined.  There are also small numbers of Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews.  Within the foreign community of approximately 6,000, more than half are Filipino Catholics, with the remainder holding diverse religious beliefs.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign workers of different religious backgrounds departed the country, affecting its religious demography during the year.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits the government from taking any action to compel, prohibit, or hinder the exercise of religion.  It stipulates there shall be no state religion.

Religious groups may obtain charters as nonprofit organizations (NGOs) from the Registrar of Corporations in the Office of the Attorney General.  As NGOs, religious groups and mission agencies are exempt from paying taxes.  To obtain a charter, a group must submit a written petition to the Registrar of Corporations and pay a filing fee of $250.  The Registrar of Corporations reviews the application for statutory compliance and then requests the President sign a charter for the NGO.

The law empowers the President to proclaim and designate any day in January of each year as a National Day of Prayer.

The law prohibits religious instruction in public schools.  Representatives of any religious group, however, may request government financial support for private religious schools.  The government earmarks funds for nonreligious purposes for recognized private schools operated by Modekngei, Catholic, Evangelical, and Seventh-day Adventist groups.  The amount earmarked is based on the number of students attending a particular school.  Private schools, including religious ones, do not pay gross revenue tax but pay a flat port clearance fee of $3 for imported school supplies.

Foreign missionaries must obtain permits from the division of immigration, which is under the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection of the Ministry of Finance; there are no application fees.  Applicants must provide police and medical clearances, and applications must include letters from the assigning church in the sending foreign country and the local accepting church.  The permits are valid for a maximum of two years and may be renewed.

The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

On January 18, outgoing President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. invited religious leaders and members of all faiths and denominations, including newly elected national leaders, to the capital for a program of prayer and song during the National Day of Prayer.  According to the government, the program “welcome[d] all expressions of religion, no matter what a person’s choosing is and without reservation or reproach.”

The government provided $947,000 to parochial schools that was equitably distributed based on the number of students attending a school, to be used for nonreligious purposes.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Activities to promote religious freedom included a Christmas celebration in Koror at which various churches performed, featuring Christian songs and prayers offered by various denominations.  Men and women leaders from traditional religious groups continued to convene for cultural and government events across the country at various times during the year.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On July 2, at an event in celebration of U.S. Independence Day, the Ambassador conducted a discussion with guests from church-affiliated high schools.  Visiting U.S. military forces entering the country for exercises and various civil engagements regularly deployed with military chaplains, who engaged with religious communities.  Between June and October, a visiting U.S. Army chaplain contacted leaders and members in the Evangelical Church and discussed the effects of drugs and alcohol abuse on families and the community.  A U.S. Navy chaplain visiting for several months as part of the military exercise “Koa Moana” met with the Seventh-day Adventist congregation and other faith groups and participated in a number of public discussions on topics that included youth suicide in the country.

South Korea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for religious freedom and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  Officials approved 1,292 alternative service applications from conscientious objectors to military service, and courts allowed all but three of 192 conscientious objectors with pending trials to begin alternative service.  In the other three cases, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported courts convicted three of their members and sentenced them to 18-month prison terms.  In April, the Supreme Prosecutor’s office apologized to Won Buddhists after accusations the office had removed a member of the group from an independent review panel based on his religious beliefs.  In a lawsuit against COVID-19 restrictions brought by several Protestant pastors, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled in September that religious gatherings of fewer than 20 people were permissible for religious groups that had not previously violated COVID-19 restrictions.  In January and February, courts in Suwon and Daegu acquitted several leaders of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (Shincheonji Church) charged with interfering with government contact-tracing efforts during the country’s initial COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.  Diverse religious groups and much of civil society again urged the National Assembly to adopt a draft antidiscrimination law that would include protections for religious affiliation.  Some Protestant groups, including the United Christian Churches of Korea, opposed the legislation because one of the protected categories was sexual orientation.  In August, the government provided temporary humanitarian stay status to 434 predominantly Muslim Afghans and evacuated and resettled 391 Afghans who had assisted the government during the war in Afghanistan.  The government extended the humanitarian stay status of 740 predominantly Muslim Yemenis and granted 18 Yemenis refugee status.

In February, a district office in the city of Daegu suspended construction of a mosque after residents, who reportedly voiced anti-Muslim slurs, blocked the work.  Construction had not resumed at year’s end, despite a court ruling that the suspension order was illegal.  Critics of the government’s policy to evacuate and accept Afghan refugees who had aided the government during the Afghan war expressed their opposition vocally in online media.  A petition calling on the government not to accept the refugees garnered more than 30,000 signatures but fell short of the 200,000 signatures that would have necessitated a government response.  The author of the petition wrote that the “introduction of Islam” by the refugees would “expose the country to terrorism.”  Online criticism of Christian congregations that were at the center of COVID-19 outbreaks in the country with cluster infections in 2020-2021 diminished, according to several religious leaders.

U.S. embassy officers engaged with government officials on issues related to religious freedom, including the status of religious asylum seekers.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues and underscored the U.S. commitment to religious freedom with Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, Jewish, Falun Dafa, and other communities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 51.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2015 census conducted by the Korea Statistical Information Service, of the 44 percent of the population espousing a religion, 45 percent are Protestant, 35 percent Buddhist, 18 percent Roman Catholic, and 2 percent “other” (including Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Jeongsando, Cheondogyo, Daejonggyo, Daesun Jinrihoe, and Islam).  The census counted members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Unification Church) as Protestants.  According to one of the two rabbis in the country, there is a small Jewish population of approximately 1,000, almost all expatriates.  The Korean Muslim Federation estimates the Muslim population at 150,000, of which approximately 120,000 are migrant workers, mainly from Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan, and 30,000 are expatriate students and businesspeople.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all citizens have freedom of religion and that there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social, or cultural life on the basis of religion.  Freedoms provided for in the constitution may be restricted by law only when necessary for national security, law and order, or public welfare, but restrictions may not violate the “essential aspect” of the freedoms.  The constitution mandates separation of religion and state.

According to regulation, a religious group that has property valued at over 300 million won ($252,000) may become a government-recognized religious organization by publishing its internal regulations defining the group’s purpose and activities, its meeting minutes of the group’s first gathering, and a list of executives and employees.

To obtain tax benefits, including exemption from acquisition or registration taxes when purchasing or selling property to be used for religious purposes, organizations must submit to the local government their registration as a religious and nonprofit corporate body, an application for local tax exemption, and a contract showing the acquisition or sale of property.  All clergy are taxed on earned yearly income, but clergy are exempt from taxation on education, food, transportation, and childcare expenses.  Individual laypersons are eligible for income tax deductions for contributions to religious organizations upon submission of receipts for the donations.

The law requires 18-21 months of active military service for virtually all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 40, followed by reserve duty training.  The law allows conscientious objectors to fulfill their service requirement by working as government employees for 36 months at correctional facilities.  Alternative service jobs may involve food service, education, sanitation, and facilities management.  Those who refuse to fulfill military service or alternative service face up to three years’ imprisonment.

Following military service, there is an eight-year reserve duty obligation involving several exercises per year.  Conscientious objectors may fulfill their reserve duties in correctional facilities, with an obligation to work for four days each year for six years.  Failure to perform reserve duties or alternative service carries fines and possible imprisonment of up to one year for reserve, or three years for alternate, service.  The fines vary depending on jurisdiction but typically average 200,000 won ($170) for the first conviction and increase for each subsequent violation up to a maximum of two million won ($1,700) per conviction.  Civilian courts have the option, in lieu of levying fines, to sentence individuals deemed to be habitual offenders to prison terms or suspended prison terms that range from one day to three years.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools.  Private schools and religious schools are free to conduct religious activities.  High school students at these schools may opt out of religious instruction, choosing to take ethics or civics courses instead.

The law provides government subsidies for the preservation and upkeep of historic cultural properties, including religious sites.

The government’s National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) investigates complaints, issues policy recommendations, trains local officials, and conducts public awareness campaigns, pertaining to human rights, including religious freedom.  The NHRCK may make nonbinding recommendations but does not have authority to implement policies or penalize individuals or entities that violate human rights.

The law on refugees contains a nonrefoulement obligation, under which the government does not forcibly return asylum seekers, including those seeking asylum for religious persecution, whose applications and appeals are pending judicial review.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government continued to accept applications for conscientious objectors to military service to fulfill their mandatory duties through alternative service and approved 1,292 such applications during the year.  Most conscientious objectors applied for alternative service based on religious beliefs, but the government also approved applications from four individuals based on their stated personal beliefs in nonviolence and pacifism.  Prior to enactment of the law allowing alternative service in 2020, those who refused military service faced up to three years’ imprisonment.  Courts allowed 189 of 192 individuals with pending trials at the time of the law’s passage to transfer to alternative service, but courts rejected the three other applications, all from Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Supreme Court rejected final appeals in these three cases in December 2020 and April and November 2021, and the three individuals, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, were serving 18-month prison sentences at year’s end.  Civil society organizations and Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives said the alternative provisions were a clear improvement, but still flawed.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the length of alternative service (three years) seemed punitive in comparison to the shorter period of 18-21 months for military service and contrary to international standards.

The government continued to enforce COVID-19 prevention measures, including restrictions on the number of persons who could gather for any purpose.  According to an October Gallup poll, most Koreans continued to support these measures in the interest of public safety and health.  Many religious groups, for example, the National Council of Churches in Korea and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, also issued public statements supporting the measures.  As pandemic conditions fluctuated, the restrictions at times included complete prohibitions on in-person religious services.  Many denominations held virtual religious gatherings during these periods.  In September, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled that in-person religious gatherings of fewer than 20 people should be allowed, following a lawsuit filed by several Protestant churches against the Seoul metropolitan government.  The court said a complete prohibition on in-person religious events infringed on basic rights.  The court said its ruling to allow limited in-person services did not include religious organizations with past records of violating quarantine rules or closure for outbreaks during the pandemic.  The court did not cite any such groups by name.  Following the ruling, there were no reports that the government prevented small gatherings of any religious group.

In January, the Suwon District Court acquitted Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church, of charges of interfering in an epidemiological investigation.  The Church was at the center of the country’s initial COVID-19 outbreak in Daegu in February 2020, receiving significant social criticism and negative media coverage.  Prosecutors had charged Lee and other church officials in 2020 with impeding contract-tracing efforts by providing incomplete or inaccurate membership lists to authorities.  The court ruled that these actions had interfered with pre-investigation data collection efforts, not the investigation itself.  A Daegu court acquitted eight other Shincheonji Church leaders in February based on the same legal interpretation.  In January, the Suwon District Court convicted Lee of embezzling 5.6 billion won ($4.71 million) in Church funds and issued a three-year suspended prison sentence.

In April, media reported that the Prosecutorial Service allegedly excluded an individual based on religious beliefs from an independent panel that reviews prosecutorial investigations.  The investigation involved Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee’s alleged illegal use of a prescription sedative, propofol.  The person excluded from the panel was a Won Buddhist, an adherent of the same religion as the Lee family.  The Korean Order of Won Buddhism filed a religious discrimination complaint, and a representative from the Supreme Prosecutor’s office visited Won Buddhism headquarters to apologize directly for the incident.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) reported that of the 79 private universities in the country run by Christian foundations, 68 required students to take a semester of religious instruction or “chapel class” as a requirement for graduation.  In May, the NHRCK said religious instruction required student consent, stating that forcing students to take a class preaching a specific religion was a violation of religious freedom.  The commission said the schools needed to offer an alternative class for students who did not wish to participate.

The NHRCK, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), diverse religious groups, and civil society organizations continued to call for the country to adopt comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation whose protected categories would include religious affiliation, race, gender, and sexual orientation, among others.  At year’s end, there were four antidiscrimination bills in the National Assembly pending action by the relevant committees.  In September, Protestants and Catholics identifying themselves as progressive, including the National Council of Churches in Korea, formed a group called “Christians for a World Without Discrimination and Hatred” to support the passage of such a law.  Also in September, monks from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism organized a protest to urge lawmakers to pass a comprehensive antidiscrimination law by crawling a total of 30 kilometers (18 miles) – three kilometers (1.8 miles) per day for 10 days – toward the National Assembly.  However, Protestant groups – including the United Christian Churches of Korea, which represents 30 denominations – that were against including sexual orientation as a protected category in the legislation opposed the bill.  These Protestant groups stated that the “legalization of homosexuality” by passing a comprehensive antidiscrimination law would be a “national disaster.”

The NHRCK investigated two cases of alleged employment discrimination, one at a private elementary school and another at a state university.  In both cases the institutions reportedly asked teachers and lecturers applying for jobs whether they were Christian, and the university requested a recommendation from a senior pastor as a requirement for the job.  The NHRCK said in each of these cases that the schools should revise their employment regulations and implement measures to prevent a recurrence.

Although NHRCK recommendations are nonbinding, the institution said government ministries took its recommendations seriously, adopting more than 90 percent of the recommendations.

The MCST’s Religious Affairs Division worked with the seven members of the NGO Korean Conference of Religions for Peace – the National Council of Churches in Korea, the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the Catholic Church, Won Buddhism, Confucianism, Cheondogyo, and the Association of Korean Native Religions – on interfaith cooperation and was the primary government contact for religious organizations.  The MCST disbursed 12.8 billion won ($10.77 million) – compared with 7.7 billion won ($6.48 million) in 2020 – supporting religious and traditional cultural events during the year, including Buddhist, Christian, Cheondogyo, and Confucian activities.

In October, the Jeju District Court rejected the first appeals of eight Chinese Christians seeking asylum.  The eight were part of a group of 60 Chinese Christians who stated they were fleeing religious persecution in the People’s Republic of China when they arrived in Jeju Island in 2019 and applied for asylum.  The immigration office rejected their asylum applications in 2020, and they began the appeal process, which could take years.

In August, the government announced it would extend temporary humanitarian stay status to 434 predominantly Muslim Afghans living in the country.  It also facilitated the travel to and settlement in the Republic of Korea of 391 Afghans who had supported the government’s efforts in Afghanistan, designating them “persons of special merit.”  Immigration officials again renewed the one-year humanitarian stay status granted to hundreds of predominantly Muslim Yemenis on Jeju Island.  According to the Ministry of Justice, 740 Yemenis resided in the country with humanitarian stay status, and 18 Yemenis had been granted refugee status.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to an Ipsos survey published in June, 78 percent of respondents perceived “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of societal tension among different religions.

In February, residents of the Buk-gu District in Daegu submitted a petition to the district office opposing the construction of a mosque near Kyungpook National University, and media reported some residents protested the construction with banners displaying racist comments and anti-Muslim slurs.  In the same month, the Buk-gu District Office issued an administrative order suspending construction of the mosque, pending resolution of residents’ complaints about the project.  The Daegu Muslim community, including approximately 150 Muslim graduate students at Kyungpook National University, began constructing the mosque in December 2020 after purchasing land and securing relevant building permits.  A resident stated the mosque was “encroaching” on their village, and a university professor told reporters the mosque’s placement in the university district – a neighborhood without a high concentration of migrant workers – contributed to the complaints.  The NHRCK stated the district office ordered suspension of construction of the building after receiving one-sided civil complaints that appeared to be based solely on its being an Islamic place of worship.  The Korean Muslim Federation said the district office did not provide any explanation or alternative solutions, calling it an instance of anti-Muslim persecution.  Although the Daegu District Court ruled in July that the suspension order was inappropriate, residents continued to position vehicles to block the entrance to construction vehicles and materials.  According to the student group, some residents also targeted students by releasing their personal information on social media and by placing anti-Muslim banners at their children’s schools.

In a December ruling, the Daegu District Court, citing two legal grounds, said the Buk-gu District Office’s February administrative order to suspend construction of the mosque was illegal.  First, the district office did not notify the building owners in advance or provide them with an opportunity to address the complaint.  Second, the suspension order was based solely on complaints from neighbors, which the court said was not a valid legal reason to interfere with the building owners’ rights.  At year’s end, the issue was unresolved and construction of the mosque remained suspended.

Critics of the government’s decision to evacuate and resettle 391 Afghan “persons of special merit” in August expressed their opposition on social media and via online petitions.  One online petition urging President Moon Jae-in “not to accept refugees” garnered more than 30,000 signatures, below the 200,000-signature threshold that would require the government to respond.  The person who uploaded the petition also stated online that the country already had enough “zealots,” and that the “introduction of Islam” by the 391 Afghans would “exacerbate the situation and expose the country to terrorism.”

Criticism continued on social media of Christian denominations that were at the center of COVID-19 outbreaks in the country with cluster infections in 2020-2021, but several religious leaders, including from groups belonging to the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace, stated the criticism was at a reduced level.  A University of Chicago article on the impact of the pandemic on Christianity in the country reported that some small shops and restaurants displayed signage temporarily refusing service to Christians.

During the year, the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace organized several programs to promote interfaith tolerance.  For example, in November, it held seminars to discuss delays in the Daegu mosque construction project and to raise awareness of Islam.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers engaged the government – including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MCST, and Ministry of Justice – on religious freedom and tolerance issues, including the status of religious asylum seekers.

On November 5, an embassy official visited the Daegu mosque site and met with persons involved with the construction.  The Charge d’Affaires and other senior officials met with Catholic Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, as well as Protestant and Buddhist leaders.  Embassy officials also spoke regularly with religious groups, including Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslim, Jewish, Falun Dafa, and other communities, to understand the religious freedom issues important to those groups and underscore the U.S. commitment to religious freedom.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future