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Thousands of aggrieved monks stage protest against government’s perceived religious bias

 

Buddhist monks gather at Jogyesa, the chief temple of South Korea‘s largest Buddhist sect Jogye Order, to participate in a protest against religious discrimination on Friday. (Yonhap)
Buddhist monks gather at Jogyesa, the chief temple of South Korea‘s largest Buddhist sect Jogye Order, to participate in a protest against religious discrimination on Friday. (Yonhap)

Thousands of Buddhist monks from across the nation gathered in Seoul on Friday to protest against the “religious bias” that they claim is prevalent within the Moon Jae-in’s government.

An estimated 5000 monks demanded an apology from President Moon Jae-in for ”religious bias and discrimination” during the protest which took place at Jogyesa, the chief temple of South Korea‘s largest Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order. They also called for the introduction of new laws and measures to prevent further religious discrimination against Buddhism and both preserve and acknowledge the rich Korean tradition of the faith.

"The government ought to preserve our cultural heritage, but now instead dares to stir religious conflict and displace responsibility," Ven. Wonhaeng, the head of the Jogye Order, said during the rally.

This is the first protest of this size since 1994, when monks of the Jogye Order convened to conduct a large-scale rally, termed the “National Convention of Monks,” to demand the reform of the sect.

The recent conflict between the Jogye order and the current administration has grown since the beginning of Moon's presidency, with the Jogye order and other sects complaining that recent government policies have discriminated against them. Their concerns range from the proportion of Buddhist politicians within the Moon Jae-in cabinet, to the tacit endorsement of Christianity within a recent promotional campaign by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism that centred on Christian carols.

This discontent peaked in October of last year, when a Democratic Party lawmaker, Jung Chung-rae claimed that Buddhist temples are exploiting admission fees paid by visitors to national parks. Jung compared Buddhist temples collecting “cultural asset viewing fees” to the acts of a legendary Joseon era con artist, who infamously sold river water.

Although Jung initially refused to apologize, when he did eventually offer an apology, it was refused by the Jogye order. The consequent pressure on Jung to resolve this ongoing conflict grew, even within his own party, amid concerns that the controversy could ruin his party’s presidential candidate, Lee Jae-myung's chances during the rapidly approaching election. As a result, on Friday, Jung attempted to make a public apology at the protest, but was barred from entering.

Similarly, Hwang Hee, the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, tried to deliver a message in support of the monks' cause via pre-recorded video displayed at the protest, which was then cut short at the monks’ request.

Hwang and the country’s several Buddhist sects have been in conflict since the ministry's Christmas carol promotional campaign last month, which the Jogye Order condemned as “an explicit promotion of a specific religion by the government.”

By Park Ga-young (gypark@heraldcorp.com)

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