The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and the authorities’ policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
The American Institute in Taiwan (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 23 million. While the authorities do not collect or independently verify statistics on religious affiliation, they maintain registration statistics voluntarily reported by religious organizations. In 2004, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Religious Affairs Section reported that 35.1 percent of the population consider themselves Buddhist; 33 percent Taoist; 3.5 percent I Kuan Tao; 2.6 percent Protestant; 1.2 percent Roman Catholic; 1.1 percent Mi Le Da Dao; 0.2 percent Sunni Muslim. Approximately 4.1 percent of the population follows 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 are a small number of Jews.
In addition, the Church of Scientology reported 20,000 members; the Baha’i Faith 16,000; Confucians 13,000; World Red Swastika Society 5; Zhonghua Sheng Chiao (Chinese Holy Religion) 3,200; Maitreya Emperor Religion 3,000; Ta I Chiao (Great Changes Religion) 1,000; Mahikari Religion 1,000; and Huang Chung (Yellow Middle) 1,000. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Secret Sect of Tibetan Lamaism (Mizong Buddhism), and the Unification Church are also registered but did not provide membership statistics. One new religious group registered during the period covered by this report, Hsuan Men Chen Tsung, with 5,000 members.
Other Christian denominations include Presbyterians, True Jesus, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventists, Episcopalians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. More than 70 percent of the indigenous population (Aborigines) is Christian.
While the overwhelming majority of religious adherents are either Buddhist or Taoist, many people consider themselves both Buddhist and Taoist. Approximately 50 percent of the population regularly participates in some form of organized religious practice. According to the Religious Affairs Section of the MOI, almost 14 percent of the population is thought to be atheist.
In addition to practicing religion, many persons also follow a collection of beliefs deeply ingrained in Chinese culture that can be termed “traditional Chinese folk religion.” These beliefs include, but are 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 believes 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 will 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, which considers itself a spiritual movement and not a religion, was introduced by a National Taiwan University professor, who reports that membership has grown rapidly in recent years and now totals approximately 500,000.
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 mainland China on temple pilgrimages. Their mainland Chinese counterparts are also invited to participate in religious activities held in Taiwan, such as the annual festival of the Goddess of the Sea held in the third month of the lunar calendar. However, the number of mainland Chinese participants remains small because of travel restrictions between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). After China 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.
Foreign missionary groups are active in Taiwan, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. The authorities do not tolerate the abuse of religious freedom, either by the authorities or private actors. There is no state religion.
Although registration is not mandatory, 26 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 register, and operate as the personal property of their leaders. Registered organizations operate on a tax-free basis and are required to make annual reports of their financial operations. In the past, concern over abuse of tax-free privileges or other financial misdeeds occasionally prompted the authorities to deny registration to new 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 non-registration is the forfeiture of the tax advantages that are available for registered religious organizations.
Religious instruction is not permitted in public or private elementary, middle, and 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 of Education 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.
Foreign missionary groups operate freely in Taiwan.
The MOI promotes interfaith understanding among religious groups by sponsoring symposiums, or 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
The authorities’ policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor United States citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Abuses by Terrorist Organizations
There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable. The Taiwan Council for Religion and Peace, the China Religious Believers Association, and the Taiwan Religious Association are private organizations that promote greater understanding and tolerance among adherents of 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 2004 seminar was held in August at Catholic Fu Jen University in Taipei.
Some religious groups have a tendency to take political positions. The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan has been active in politics, particularly in support of the pro-independence movement, and maintains contact with some elements of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The American Institute in Taiwan discusses religious freedom issues with the authorities as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The AIT is in frequent contact with representatives of human rights organizations and regularly meets with leaders of various religious communities.