Leading Religious Scholars Voice Support for Tai Ji Men
International scholars explore the 25-year violation of human rights and religious freedom against Tai Ji Men during the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR), promoted by Action Alliance to Redress 1219.
CHICAGO, Aug. 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On August 8, 2021, during the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, (ASR), one of the leading international societies for the scholarly study of religion, a session was devoted to “Relevant Spirituality: The Tai Ji Men Case and Protests in Taiwan.” This has been one of the forums delving into the case since last July, drawing increasing international attention, and the Action Alliance to Redress 1219 has strived to rectify the case since then.
Over 10,000 people took to the streets in Taipei to protest against the unlawful auction and confiscation of land, which occurred on August 21, 2020, belonging to a spiritual organization known as Tai Ji Men, intended for a retreat center. It was a recent episode in a 25-year legal saga that started in 1996, when the group was raided, and its leader and other members arrested. Eventually, Tai Ji Men won all the criminal cases, and those arrested were awarded compensation for unjust imprisonment. As a by-product, however, a tax case is still going on. The session explored what the Tai Ji Men case tells the world about the relevance of new religious movements and spiritual groups in Taiwan, how they manage to be heard by the media and politicians, and the role of religion in contemporary Taiwanese society.
Eileen Barker, professor emerita at the London School of Economics and one of the founders of the modern discipline of the academic study of new religious movements, spoke on “A Surprising Case: What Tai Ji Men Tells Us About Taiwan.” Professor Barker, who has been to Taiwan and is familiar with the country, gave an overview of Taiwan’s religious history and background and expressed her shock as the Tai Ji Men case took place in a democratic country, a “wonderful tapestry of ethnicities and religions.” She observed that after the criminal division of Taiwan’s Supreme Court found Tai Ji Men innocent of tax evasion and all other charges, tax bureaucrats continued to harass it for more than 20 years. She reminded the audience that in many democracies “it isn’t the policy or even the law that seems to be the problem. It’s the administration of the law or the policy. The executive power still dominated the judicial and legislative power being under its control to some extent.” “The difference with Tai Ji Men is that they fight,” she noted, adding, “They are fighting to preserve Taiwan as a democratic country that follows its own laws and stifles corruption in bureaucracy.”
Prof. Massimo Introvigne, another well-known scholar of new religious movements, and the managing director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religious Movements) in Torino, Italy, spoke on “Tai Ji Men: A Background.” What is Tai Ji Men, exactly? Introvigne asked. Rather than a religious movement, he answered, they prefer to be called a “menpai” (similar to a “school”) of martial arts, qigong, and self-cultivation, rooted in esoteric Taoism. His paper traced the story of Tai Ji Men and its expansion from Taiwan to other countries, and of its founder, Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze. Prof. Introvigne tried to explain why the movement was religiously persecuted by the government beginning in 1996, something that happened for political reasons, and discussed what its likely future will be after the tax case and the massive street protests of 2020-2021.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, presented “A Comparative Study of State Control of Religions Through Taxation in France and Taiwan.” States, Fautré said, have to accept the transformation of the profile of their populations and to adapt to new sociological dynamics without privileging or discriminating against any religious or spiritual group. The world is however not ideal, and many states in different cultures do not respect this fundamental principle of neutrality. Fautré claimed that both the French and Taiwanese states have used and abused their taxation systems to stigmatize peaceful, law-abiding religious groups that they don’t like for whatever reasons and to try to destroy them financially. There is a supra-national court in Europe which can correct questionable national judgments, the European Court of Human Rights, said Fautré, adding, “There is no such supra-national court in Taiwan and the way to the UN is politically closed to Taiwanese victims of injustice. That is why it is important to put their issue on the radar of countries which are committed to freedom of religion or belief and who can use their soft power on Taiwan to have the case of Tai Ji Men properly redressed.”
Pier Marco Ferraresi, a professor at the Italian University of Torino’s School of Economics, presented “An Economist’s View” of the Tai Ji Men case. “The bad news for tax justice is that the National Taxation Bureau revealed itself in the case of Tai Ji Men as an instrument of certain politicians and bureaucrats to carry out a persecution against a legitimate spiritual movement,” he noted, adding, “This case needs the attention and support of more international human rights organizations to push the Taiwan government and officials to both immediately resolve the case and reform its tax system to make sure that its persecutory use is not repeated in the future.”
“I sincerely admire the perseverance of Tai Ji Men in continuing their battle on political and cultural grounds, and of those who try to inform the world about a case that is important for economists as well, as important as the rule of law and freedom can be. The international community should condemn those who have caused such gross human right violations against Tai Ji Men, and I hope that all cases of persecution against religious or spiritual movements through taxation, by any government in the world, will cease,” said Prof. Ferraresi.
Dr. Linda Chen, a postdoctoral research associate at Dalhousie University in Canada and a dizi (disciple) of Tai Ji Men herself, presented an insider perspective of Tai Ji Men’s protests connected with the tax case. She also introduced Who Stole Their Youth? a book published in Chinese in 2020 and in English in 2021, which documents the dilemma of Tai Ji Men members facing State power and rogue bureaucrats in Taiwan. She said, “It baffled me that those bureaucrats showed no concern of how much mental and emotional damage they had created to a peaceful spiritual group; they violated Tai Ji Men Shifu’s (master) and dizi’s rights to freedom of religion or belief; they are known to go after the bonus money or job performance credits.” “I think the injustice of the Tai Ji Men case needed to end urgently. Justice and the rectification of the broken judicial and administrative systems are desperately needed for Taiwan, so they can truly become a people-oriented democratic country which respects human rights as well, returning the peace and pure land in people’s hearts,” she added, calling for cooperation between scholars, human rights activists, and dizi to bring the Tai Ji Men case to a solution.
Since July 2020, the Tai Ji Men case has been widely discussed and drawn increasing attention in the international community. The Action Alliance to Redress 1219 has launched a campaign to show that this case in Taiwan merits international attention because it is not merely a domestic Taiwanese issue or appears to be a tax dispute when, in fact, it is a matter of freedom of religion or belief. The Alliance will continue its efforts and urges that the case be settled in a just and open way as soon as possible.
About Action Alliance to Redress 1219: Action Alliance to Redress 1219 is a group of international and Taiwanese legal, religious, and human rights specialists working to restore the truth about the ongoing persecution of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan by a small group of bureaucrats that has lasted for 25 years, as well as their misuse of authority and violations of the law. In addition to rectifying the Tai Ji Men case and revealing the truth, it is also committed to defending religious freedom and speaking out for related injustices in Taiwan. The Alliance calls on those in power not to ignore people’s fundamental human rights and demands that perpetrators be held accountable to protect democracy, the rule of law, and justice.
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