Four things that ‘Gods on Ketagalan’ got wrong

Teresa Wu, Special to The China Post

An 11,000-strong parade launched a colorful protest on Sunday against a so-called government campaign to tamper with religious rites. Rumors had swirled on the web for weeks, saying the central government intended to pass a Religious Organizations Act which, among other things, would “eliminate the use of incense.” Here’s a sampling of the rumors that fueled the “Biggest in History, Gods on Ketagalan” parade on Sunday, and here’s why they don’t match the facts:

Rumor: The Religious Organizations Act is on the verge of coming into force

A widely circulated message on Line said that the Religious Organizations Act had passed its second reading in the Legislative Yuan and was only one step away from becoming a law.

Reality: There’s a long wait ahead

The Religious Organizations Act has not yet been submitted to the Legislative Yuan for deliberation. It’s still in the draft stage and there is a series of forums that must be held before it can be submitted to lawmakers for review. Sign up for a forum here:

Rumor: The law targets traditional folk religions only

Another claim that’s spread far and wide on Line is that the Religious Organizations Act will regulate Buddhism and Taoism but not “western religions” such as Catholicism, making it unequal and discriminatory.

Reality: Law applies to churches, too

According to Article Four and Article 31 of the Religious Organizations Act draft bill, its provisions would apply to both temples and churches.

Rumor: Government to take over churches

A Line message says that the law seeks to blur the line between church and state by allowing the central government to assign leaders of religious groups and to take their income.

Reality: The government can assign a leader in some cases

No clause in the Religious Organizations Act allows the government to take a religious organization’s donations. The act allows the government to assign a leader to a religious group only on a temporary basis if the original leader commits a crime, mistreats the group or cannot administer the group any longer.

Rumor: Incense ban

To curb air pollution, the government seeks to prohibit the burning of incense or joss paper

Reality: It’s a rumor

Going by what government officials have said, it does not aim to ban the general practice of incense burning. The rumor may have begun with a trace of reality, in that the Environmental Protection Administration does want to amend the “Air Pollution Control Act” to ban incense burning when air quality is extremely poor. The rumor may have been fueled when an online news outlet mistakenly wrote the term “reduce incense use” as “eliminate incense use,” an error that it later corrected.