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This paper aims to explore the history and characteristics of discourses on the freedom of religion in Korea since 1945, with special references to industrial mission, conscientious objection to military service, and religious education in mission school. First, industrial mission is one of the mission activities carried out by progressive Protestants in the 1960s and ’70s. Industrial mission stressed humanization and social justice by accepting a new paradigm of mission called missio dei (mission of God). Military power blamed that industrial mission broke down the wall of separation between church and state. Contrarily, the progressive Protestants understood industrial mission as an exercise of the freedom of mission. As a result, a conflict occurred between these Protestants and the military regime. Discourses on the freedom of mission produced by the former has contributed to the diffusion of discussions on religious freedom and human rights in Korea. Second, most of conscientious objections to military service tend to occur among both Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They refuse to serve in the army by emphasizing “no murder” and “love for others.” They argue that their objection to military service should be accepted as an exercise of the freedom of conscience. According to the government, however, military duty takes priority over the freedom of conscience. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse military service inevitably become imprisoned. Their incessant combats for the freedom of conscience have contributed to the diffusion of discourses on religious freedom and pacifism. Third, disputes on the religious education in private mission schools first strongly surfaced in 2004 by a high school student, Kang Eui- Seok. Kang demanded a right of choice regarding participation in chapel, arguing that the chapel attendance imposed by school authorities oppressed his own conscience. School authorities, however, contended that chapel is a part of religious education, and it should be permitted as a kind of the freedom of mission. Recent disputes on the religious education, thus, show a clash between the freedom of conscience and the freedom of mission. This controversy, started by a student, has revitalized not only the discourses on religious freedom but also has increased interests in the rights of students, a minority group in Korean society.


This paper aims to explore the history and characteristics of discourses on the freedom of religion in Korea since 1945, with special references to industrial mission, conscientious objection to military service, and religious education in mission school. First, industrial mission is one of the mission activities carried out by progressive Protestants in the 1960s and ’70s. Industrial mission stressed humanization and social justice by accepting a new paradigm of mission called missio dei (mission of God). Military power blamed that industrial mission broke down the wall of separation between church and state. Contrarily, the progressive Protestants understood industrial mission as an exercise of the freedom of mission. As a result, a conflict occurred between these Protestants and the military regime. Discourses on the freedom of mission produced by the former has contributed to the diffusion of discussions on religious freedom and human rights in Korea. Second, most of conscientious objections to military service tend to occur among both Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They refuse to serve in the army by emphasizing “no murder” and “love for others.” They argue that their objection to military service should be accepted as an exercise of the freedom of conscience. According to the government, however, military duty takes priority over the freedom of conscience. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses who refuse military service inevitably become imprisoned. Their incessant combats for the freedom of conscience have contributed to the diffusion of discourses on religious freedom and pacifism. Third, disputes on the religious education in private mission schools first strongly surfaced in 2004 by a high school student, Kang Eui- Seok. Kang demanded a right of choice regarding participation in chapel, arguing that the chapel attendance imposed by school authorities oppressed his own conscience. School authorities, however, contended that chapel is a part of religious education, and it should be permitted as a kind of the freedom of mission. Recent disputes on the religious education, thus, show a clash between the freedom of conscience and the freedom of mission. This controversy, started by a student, has revitalized not only the discourses on religious freedom but also has increased interests in the rights of students, a minority group in Korean society.