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[Editorial] No sanctuary

Religion should never be exploited by fugitives

What happened at the head temple of the Jogye Order in Seoul over the past weeks offers many things to think about. Most of all, the case exposed some of the abnormalities this society has to overcome.  

The most ridiculous abnormality was that a fugitive could defy law enforcement for 25 days by using a religious facility as a shield. Where does the law stand?  

Don’t we live in a country where the law should be applied fairly and equally to all — labor activists, thieves, fraudsters or rapists — and everywhere — temples, churches, homes or workplaces? 

There was a time when people stood by religious facilities - like Myeongdong Cathedral — that provided shelter to pro-democracy activists escaping government persecution. But that was a time when the government, ruled by military-backed dictators who seized power in a coup, did not have legitimacy.

Now we live in a mature democracy, in which the government is elected in a vote and the Constitution clearly stipulates the need for separation of state from religion. 

Temples and churches may provide care for those in need and the underprivileged, but Han was not any such person, but a fugitive who had been wanted by authorities for masterminding illegal and violent demonstrations. 

Han, head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, urged participants in the violent Nov. 14 demonstrations — two days before he sneaked into the temple — to “show that we can paralyze this country.” 

Inside the temple, he kept on ridiculing the rule of law and went back on his promise to leave after another antigovernment protest held on Dec. 5. 

Han and his colleagues must have thought that the sight of police in full riot gear breaking through columns of monks and protesters to detain him would heighten antigovernment sentiment, especially among Buddhists, and create an image of himself as a victim of government persecution. 

It was timely and appropriate, therefore, that the head of the Jogye Order stepped in, asking for one more day to settle the issue. Police were prudent as well in agreeing to delay the use of force. It was fortunate — for all sides — that Han walked out of the temple on his own and was taken into custody.  

But the peaceful end to the case should not relieve all parties — not least police, Buddhist priests and worshippers and labor activists — from the obligation to learn a lesson and make sure there will be no recurrence of any such situation. Then we would be able to remove one more abnormality in this society.
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