(Washington, D.C.) Religious leaders from Washington D.C. are expressing outrage over the persecution of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an international mega church based in South Korea, and its chairman, Chairman Man Hee Lee, who they say are being used as a scapegoat for the surge in COVID-19 cases in South Korea earlier this year. Recently, the church was sued for $82 million in damages.
Mr. Dasharath Rajgor, a Hindu Priest, or Puja, of the Shree Ram Mandir Bharat Darshan in Maryland responded to recent events, expressing his concern that religious freedom was being violated in South Korea.
"I was disappointed to learn of the egregious breach of freedom of religion in South Korea, a nation that claims to be an exemplary country for human rights," said Mr. Rajgor.
Shincheonji and Chairman Lee received a civil action lawsuit of $82 million (100 billion won) in damages from the city of Daegu earlier this week. The city blames the church for the city's mass outbreak of COVID-19 back in February and March.
Shincheonji was at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, as the virus surged in South Korea. More than 5,000 of the 12,535 reported cases in South Korea were of Shincheonji church members. However, Chairman Lee received blame for the surge of cases. Shincheonji church members whose affiliation was exposed by the government faced workplace discrimination, persecution, and even domestic abuse. Furthermore, coercive conversion education -- where individuals hire pastors to use psychological and physically abusive practices to convert their loved ones from their choice of religion -- continues to claim Shincheonji members as victims.
In his statement, Mr. Rajgor asked that 'if South Korea is to promote human rights, can one claim this, if there continues to be cases of coercive conversion, where innocent victims are kidnapped, tortured, and harassed, sometimes to the point of death?' He continues by asking, 'Can one claim this if the government partners with the religious majority to persecute a religious minority through the means of lawsuits and making it a public scapegoat?'
Mr. Rajgor has been a supporter of the peace work initiatives Chairman Lee has spearheaded.
"For the past 37 years he has been ceaselessly working to establish peace among all religions and to put an end to all war," Mr. Rajgor said. "He has done nothing wrong."
Despite the challenges Shincheonji faces, around 4,000 Shincheonji congregation members who fully recovered from COVID-19 say they will donate plasma for coronavirus research, according to Reuters (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-southkorea/south-korea-church-hit-by-covid-19-says-members-to-give-plasma-for-research-idUSKBN23U1QA).
"I ask that you reconsider your actions and revoke any and all accusations, lawsuits, and legal charges against Shincheonji," Mr. Rajgor pleaded in his statement.
Mr. Rajgor and religious leaders from the Washington D.C. area will gather for a virtual World Alliance of Religions for Peace (WARP) Office, an interfaith panel discussion between religious leaders -- one of Chairman Lee's global peace work initiatives -- on July 18. Another religious leader and returning WARP Office participant said he believes that between a global pandemic and the treatment Chairman Lee and Shincheonji is receiving, it is only right to gather together as a global religious community.
"Generations to come will look back at this moment and be proud that we stood together. Chairman Lee loves Korea and has been doing everything for his country," said Mr. Rajgor.