The Republic of Korea (“South Korea”) generally protects and, in practice, respects freedom of religion, but there remain some privileges over the non-religious. In addition, conscientious objectors continue to be incarcerated by the government and “non-ethnic” Koreans face discrimination.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal
No Rating

Constitution and government

The constitution generally provides for freedom of religion. However, Buddhist groups have complained that the government are religiously biased against them.

On June 3, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) released a report showing that the overwhelming majority of conscientious objectors worldwide (92.5%) are South Korean nationals.

Religious institutions are tax exempt, with no such exemptions for specifically secular or humanist groups.

Education and children’s rights

Religious instruction in not allowed in public schools, however, private schools are permitted to conduct religious activities for children.

Although academic freedom is unrestrained, the National Security Law restricts statements supporting Communism or the North Korean establishment.

In January 2012, a students’ rights law was lodged for all Seoul-based elementary, middle, and high schools to prohibit use of corporal punishment and discrimination against students on the basis of gender, religion, age, race, sexual orientation, or pregnancy and allows students to stage marches. The law was passed in October, 2013.

Family, community and society

Ethnic discrimination

The country’s few ethnic minorities are subject to legal and societal discrimination. Residents who are not considered to be “ethnic Koreans” face considerable difficulties acquiring citizenship. Furthermore, lack of citizenship prevents them from the civil service and limits opportunities for employment at some major corporations.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The news media in the Republic of Korea is generally free and competitive, newspapers are privately owned and report extensively on the state of the government. Despite media censorship being prohibited, official censorship, particularly of online material, has expanded under Lee Myung-bak’s government. The country was listed in the Reporters Without Borders “Enemies of the Internet” report as being a country “under surveillance” in 2012.

The National Security Law, enacted in 1948, aimed to limit espionage and other dangers from the North. Listening to North Korean radio is prohibited as is posting messages online that are perceived as advocating support for the North side of the peninsula. In order to quell support for North Korea, the South Korean government has deleted tens of thousands of web posts deemed to be promoting the movement of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea). The government has also attempted to coerce reporting conducted by the media and has tried to directly influence the management of major broadcast media.