The Stella Matutina Girls’ High School in Taiwan's Taichung diocese
Catholic educators and a senior Church official have taken issue with what they say are misleading media reports over a school being fined for religious discrimination.
The dispute stems from a decision by Taipei city authorities to fine a private Catholic school NT$600,000 (US$19,820) for the firing of two Mormon teachers, both from the United States, in October last year.
A court rejected an appeal of the decision in May this year. The case was cited in a recent report on religious freedom
by the U.S. State Department.
Local media picked up on the report and quoted the head of Taiwan’s labor affairs bureau as saying last week that employers should not discriminate against staff members with different religious faiths, nor should they prevent staff from practicing their faith.
However, critics have noted that media reports failed to mention what they say are key details in the case from the U.S. State Department report, particularly that the two teachers were promoting their faith within the Catholic school, and one of them was allegedly giving students extra credit for attending Mormon religious services.
Father Otfried Chan, secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference in Taipei, said religious freedom is not only for individuals but also for community as well and that Catholic schools and organizations should enjoy the freedom to protect and exercise their beliefs, and to hire staff members who identify with that faith.
“If religious belief is violated by the behavior of any staff member, a religious group should be free to take action according to its own regulations to protect its faith,” he said.
O-Yang Tai-ying, principal of Blessed Imelda School in Taipei, said if a teacher offers extra credit to attract students to attend religious activities, it is “against justice and fairness.”
Sister Agnes Chu, principal of Stella Matutina Girls’ High School in Taichung diocese, said all school authorities, including the Catholic ones, should maintain neutrality.
The hiring contract has stayed explicitly that teachers are forbidden to conduct propaganda for any political party or religion, she noted.
Bosco Tso, principal of Heng Yee Catholic High School in Taipei, added that Catholic schools only consider professionalism and moral conduct of a teacher, not their religious belief.
As for the students, they will not be forced or lured to join any Catholic activities, which announcements are publicly on display in the Church-run schools, said Sr. Chu.
“Respecting the religious freedom of students is a characteristic of Catholic schools. Or else parents would not send their children here to us,” she said.
In Taiwan, compulsory religious instruction is not permitted in any public or private elementary, middle or high school. High schools may provide elective courses in religious studies, provided such courses do not promote certain religious beliefs over others.
Universities and research institutions may have religious studies departments and have full authority to design their own curriculums. However, students with non-religion majors are given the freedom not to study religious courses.
The Catholic Church in Taiwan comprises 239,565 parishioners and runs two language schools, two vocational schools, 30 high schools, 11 elementary schools and 155 kindergarten schools, according to the Catholic Church directory of Taiwan published this year.
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