The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respected this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and official policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among religious groups in society contributed to religious freedom.
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
Taiwan has an area of approximately 13,800 square miles and an estimated population of twenty-three million. While the authorities do not collect or independently verify statistics on religious affiliation, they maintain registration statistics voluntarily reported by religious organizations.
In April 2006 the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Religious Affairs Section reported that 35 percent of the people of Taiwan considered themselves Buddhist, 33 percent Taoist, 3.5 percent I Kuan Tao, 2.6 percent Protestant, 1.3 percent Roman Catholic, 1 percent Mi Le Da Dao, and 0.2 percent Sunni Muslim. Approximately 4 percent of the population followed traditional Chinese religions such as Tien Te Chiao (Heaven Virtue Religion), Tien Ti Chiao (Heaven Emperor Religion), and Hsuan Yuan Chiao (Yellow Emperor Religion). There also was a small number of Jews.
In addition, Confucian groups reported 26,700 members; Church of Scientology twenty thousand; Baha’i Faith 16 thousand; Hsuan Men Tsung 5 thousand; Zhonghua Sheng Chiao (Chinese Holy Religion) 3,200; Maitreya Emperor Religion 3 thousand; Ta I Chiao (Great Changes Religion) 1 thousand; Mahikari Religion 1 thousand; and Huang Chung (Yellow Middle) 1 thousand. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Secret Sect of Tibetan Lamaism (Mizong Buddhism), and the Unification Church were also registered but did not provide membership statistics. No new religious groups registered during the reporting period. Other Christian denominations included: Presbyterians, True Jesus, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Episcopalians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. More than 70 percent of the nearly half- million indigenous persons (aborigines) were Christian.
While the overwhelming majority of religious adherents were either Buddhist or Taoist, many people considered themselves to be both. Approximately 50 percent of the population regularly participated in some form of organized religious practice, and 81 percent adhered to some form of organized religion. According to the Religious Affairs Section of the MOI, an estimated 18 percent of the population was thought to be atheist.
In addition to practicing organized religion, many persons also followed a collection of beliefs deeply ingrained in Chinese culture that can be termed “traditional Chinese folk religion.” These beliefs included, but were not limited to, shamanism, ancestor worship, magic, ghosts and other spirits, and aspects of animism. Researchers have estimated that as much as 80 percent of the population believed in some form of traditional folk religion. Such folk religions may overlap with an individual’s belief in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or other traditional Chinese religions. The open, syncretistic nature of religion in Taiwan is such that many Buddhist and Taoist temples include Christian icons, including statues of Jesus and Mary, in the display of altar deities. There also may be an overlap between practitioners of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism with those of Falun Gong, which is registered as a civic rather than religious organization. Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa as it is sometimes called in Taiwan, is considered a spiritual movement and not a religion. The Chairman of the Taiwan Falun Dafa Society said membership in Taiwan had grown rapidly in recent years to approximately 500 thousand and continued to increase.
Religious beliefs cross political and geographic lines. Members of the political leadership practice various faiths. Regardless of political affiliation, every year tens of thousands of Buddhists and Taoists from Taiwan go to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on temple pilgrimages. Their mainland Chinese counterparts were also invited to participate in religious activities held in Taiwan, such as the annual festival of the Goddess of the Sea held during the third month of the lunar calendar. However, the number of mainland Chinese participants remained small because of travel restrictions between Taiwan and the PRC. After The PRC passed the Anti-Secession Law in March 2005, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan asked local government officials, such as mayors and magistrates, to refrain from leading religious pilgrimages to the PRC. There were frequent cross-Strait religious exchanges over the past year but no reports of local officials leading such pilgrimages to the PRC.
Foreign missionary groups, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, were active in Taiwan.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respected this right in practice. Authorities at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by official or private actors.
Although registration is not mandatory, twenty-six religious organizations have registered with the MOI Religious Affairs Section. Religious organizations may register with the central authorities through their island-wide associations under the temple management law, the civic organizations law, or the chapter of the civil code that governs foundations and associations. While individual places of worship may register with local authorities, many choose not to do so and operate as the personal property of their leaders. Registered organizations operate on a tax-free basis and are required to submit annual reports of their financial operations. In the past, concern over abuse of tax-free privileges or other financial misdeeds occasionally prompted the authorities to deny registration to new religious groups whose doctrines were not clear; however, there were no reports that the authorities sought to deny registration to new groups during the period covered by this report. The only ramification for nonregistration is the forfeiture of the tax advantages that are available for registered religious organizations.
In 2001 the cabinet submitted a bill to consolidate existing laws governing religious organizations. The bill has been pending in the Legislative Yuan for five years. It would enable religious groups to obtain official recognition if able to meet certain donation or membership thresholds. Some lawmakers have questioned whether a consolidated law is necessary and whether the proposed threshold requirements would hamper the interests of smaller religious groups.
Religious instruction is not permitted in public or private elementary, middle, or high schools accredited by the Ministry of Education. Religious organizations are permitted to operate schools, but religious instruction is not permitted in those schools. Schools not accredited by the ministry may provide religious instruction. High schools may provide general courses in religious studies, and universities and research institutions have religious studies departments. Theological seminaries are operated by religious organizations.
The MOI promotes interfaith understanding among religious groups by sponsoring symposiums or by helping to defray the expenses of privately sponsored symposiums on religious issues. The MOI also publishes and updates an introduction to major religious beliefs and groups based on material provided by the groups. This introduction is also available on the Internet. In addition, the MOI holds annual ceremonies to honor religious groups that have made contributions to public service, social welfare, and to other activities promoting social harmony and serving the underprivileged.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Official policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in Taiwan.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Relations among the various religious communities were generally amicable. The Taiwan Council for Religion and Peace, the China Religious Believers Association, and the Taiwan Religious Association are private organizations that promote greater understanding and tolerance among adherents of different religions. These associations and various religious groups occasionally sponsor symposiums to promote mutual understanding. The Taiwan Conference on Religion and Peace sponsors summer seminars every year to help college students understand the practice of major religions in Taiwan. The 2005 seminar was held at the I Kuan Tao temple in Kaohsiung County, and more than 200 college students attended. The 2006 seminar was planned for September at a Tian Di Jiao temple in Taichung County.
Some religious groups had a tendency to take political positions. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan was active in politics, particularly in support of the pro-independence movement, and maintained contact with some elements of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. AIT was in frequent contact with representatives of human rights organizations and regularly meets with leaders of various religious communities.