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[Editorial] State and Religion Must Stay Separate

Posted July. 05, 2008 08:28,   


Buddhists have formed a coalition against the Lee Myung-bak administration, criticizing the government’s biased view in its overt embracing of Christianity. New Grand National Party leader Park Hee-tae visited the Jogye Order to apologize on his first day, but the issue remains.

Buddhists take these examples: The government neglected to send major Buddhist temples the congratulatory telegram from the president on Buddha’s Birthday this year, which it normally sends, and omitted temple information in the transportation information system created by the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs, while including church information. They also point to the poster of National Police Agency Commissioner General Eo Cheong-soo and Yoido Full Gospel Church Minister Cho Yong-gi, which makes it look as though the police chief favors a certain religion.

Prime Minister Han Seung-soo tried to calm the situation, saying it was due to a “mistake” or “carelessness.” But the administration including President Lee Myung-bak bears heavy responsibilities. As Seoul City Mayor, Lee was criticized by other religions when he said he would offer Seoul to God, and when he became president, he was mired in controversy for discriminating against candidates of different faiths. He must declare that he will exclude any religious factors in his duties from now on and work hard to restore confidence.

The Constitution guarantees the separation of religion and state. It bans making policies or engaging in political activities that favor or discriminate against a specific religion. High-ranking officials including the president should be careful about religious neutrality. The separation of church and state also means that religion should not be politicized or intervene in state affairs.

The Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice took to the streets, calling for Lee Myung-bak’s resignation, and Buddhists held a service opposing U.S. beef imports Friday. The holding of anti-government candlelight protests by liberal priests can undermine the separation of church and state significantly.

We are living in a time far from the past dictatorship under which priests were obligated to join the movement to democratize the country. As candlelight protests turn into the political struggle of liberals, the people’s participation has decreased significantly. At this point, the role of priests is to address conflicts, not light candles. All in all, priests should refrain from excessive involvement in politics.