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Temple ban on politicians called off

by Moon Gwang-lip, JoongAng Daily, June 8, 2011

Govn officials, GNP, snubbed after temple budget cut

Seoul, South Korea -- The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the nation’s largest Buddhist sect, said yesterday it is lifting a ban on government officials and Grand National Party members entering Buddhist temples across the country.

<< Venerable Jaseung speaks at a press conference yesterday. By Kim Do-hoon

“We will consider a change in the stance we’ve taken over the past six months in dealing with the government,” the Venerable Jaseung, the head of the order, said at a press conference. “We will annul the suspension on communication [with the government and ruling party members] and [their] entry to temples,” he said.

The ban was put in place in December to protest the GNP’s passage of the 2011 budget, which included a cut in subsidies for temple stay programs. The sect complained of “Buddhist-bashing” policies by a predominantly Christian administration.

The signature tourism program for Korean Buddhism was slashed from 18.5 billion won ($17.1 million) in 2010 to 12.2 billion won. The sect has been complaining of unfairness since President Lee Myung-bak, a Presbyterian elder, took office in February 2008.

The passing of a hefty budget for Lee’s four-rivers restoration project was also mentioned as a basis for the ban.

The Blue House yesterday welcomed the move.

“We highly appreciate efforts by the Buddhist community to resolve conflicts in Korean society and promote inter-religious harmony and its resolution to improve the relationship with the administration,” said a high-ranking official at the presidential office of the Blue House.

“The Blue House and the administration will strengthen cooperation with the religious community for social integration.”

Conciliatory gestures between the two groups have been made since March, when a group of Buddhist GNP lawmakers was allowed to hold a meeting inside Jogye Temple in central Seoul, the headquarters of the sect. Later that month, the Venerable Hyechong, one of the high-profile Jogye leaders, attended a meeting of Buddhists at the Blue House.

The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs announced a plan on May 25 to ease regulations on the construction of temples, which will allow old temples to be renovated and expanded.

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