Ground-breaking Lawsuit Could Expand Religious Freedom Protection in Korea

A positive outcome would give young Korean Adventists ‘a brighter future,’ leaders said.

Bettina Krause, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty
Ground-breaking Lawsuit Could Expand Religious Freedom Protection in Korea

Seventh-day Adventists in Korea are requesting prayers from their world church family as a landmark Sabbath-keeping lawsuit makes its way to the nation’s Supreme Court. First-year medical student Jiman Han is suing for the right to take university exams outside of Sabbath hours. His predicament is one that thousands of Adventists in Korea have faced through the years, with many university and professional accreditation exams scheduled on Sabbath. This will be the first time Korea’s highest court has taken up the issue, and a favorable outcome could give Sabbath-keepers — and other people of faith — new religious freedom protections.

Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the church in Korea Lee Ji Choon explains that while religious freedom is a constitutional right under Korean law, this has not always translated into real-life protections for those who worship on Saturday. Jiman Han began his lawsuit only after he repeatedly tried, and failed, to gain permission from his university to take his exams on a day other than Sabbath. He lost his case initially, but then, last month, won after appealing to a higher court. The university, however, has now appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn Han’s victory, and so he must continue his legal fight for Sabbath accommodation.

In a statement released by his family, Han called his long-running lawsuit a “great pressure and challenge,” but said he believed “God’s providence will be with us as we carry on the battle. We are sincerely grateful to the church members for their support and prayers.”

According to Choon, the fight is not only for Han himself but for all Korean Adventist Church members and for other people of faith who seek religious freedom protections. Han’s situation is not uncommon for Adventists in Korea, but this is the first time that Korea’s highest court has taken up the issue. A ruling in Han’s favor would provide a precedent that could help alleviate the often-wrenching choices church members continue to face.

Ganoune Diop, director of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, expressed hope that Adventists in Korea may soon no longer have to relinquish professional or academic advancement to stay true to their conscience. “We join our brothers and sisters in Korea in praying for an outcome that provides greater constitutional protection for all people of faith in Korea,” he said. “Jiman Han’s courage in bringing this action will also, I pray, help highlight the importance of religious freedom and its role in building a more prosperous and inclusive society.”

There is no indication yet how long it will take for the Supreme Court to rule on Han’s case, but Choon explains that such litigation is often prolonged and expensive. “We deeply appreciate our church members who are showing support with much prayer and financial means,” he said. “I once again respectfully request church members’ prayers and support so that the youth of our church in Korea can face a brighter future.”

Bettina Krause, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty