Human rights activists and academics also evidenced Dr. Hong’s contribution to peace education.
by Massimo Introvigne
An article already published in Bitter Winter on October 1st, 2021.
On September 20, 2021, on the eve of the International Day of Peace (September 21), academics and activists from different continents participated in one of the bimonthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case organized by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers. The theme was, “There Is No Peace Without Justice: The Fight of Dr. Hong and the Tai Ji Men case,” and a video by the United Nations’ Secretary General António Guterres on the meaning of the International Day of Peace within the context of the COVID-19 crisis was presented at the beginning of the webinar.
Another important video was also presented, about the anniversary of the events of August 21, 2020, when land belonging to Dr. Hong, and intended for a self-cultivation center of Tai Ji Men, was auctioned and then confiscated as a result of a tax bill (which should not have existed), both Tai Ji Men and Taiwanese and international scholars who have studied their case regard as illegal.
I introduced the event by stating that if we lived in normal times, we would devote all the webinar to the outstanding contributions of the leader of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, to international peace education. Instead, we have to discuss this denial of peace and justice that is the Tai Ji Men tax case.
However, PierLuigi Zoccatelli, Professor of Sociology of religion at Pontifical Salesian University in Torino, Italy, devoted his speech to Dr. Hong’s ideas connecting peace and human rights with conscience. He noted that for Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) spiritual self-cultivation and international peace activities are not separated. In fact, promoting peace for Dr. Hong is a form of self-cultivation. Zoccatelli said that protesting for justice, including tax justice, is also understood by dizi as part of self-cultivation.
Francisco Tenorio, a well-known Brazilian lawyer and author specialized in freedom of religion or belief (FORB), reported about his study of the Tai Ji Men case in comparison with Brazilian cases, which he summarized in three points. First, he explained how historically tax immunity was granted to spiritual and religious groups recognizing they were operating for the benefit of the citizens, which justified tax advantages even within the framework of a secular state. There is no doubt Tai Ji Men operates for the benefit of its members and society at large, so gifts given by dizi to their Grand Master are not taxable. Second, there was a movement in Brazil to remove tax exemption from spiritual groups, since some spiritual leaders abused it for private motives. But the movement failed, as the idea prevailed that it would be unfair to punish all the spiritual movements for the wrongdoings of one or two of them. Worse, there is the risk that taxes may be used as tools for persecution, which clearly occurred in the Tai Ji Men case. Third, Tai Ji Men is a spiritual movement, as such entitled to tax benefits if it was in Brazil, which makes its case different from the one involving Brazilian Freemasonry, where gifts were regarded as taxable because its spiritual nature was considered as not proved.
Iván Arjona Pelado, president of the Spanish United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO Fundación para la Mejora de la Vida, la Cultura y la Sociedad (Foundation for the Betterment of Life, Culture, and Society) mentioned European cases to denounce attempts by government to use taxes to limit the activities of religious and spiritual movements some politicians or bureaucrats do not like. They should then divert resources they would prefer to devote to promote peace and spirituality to self-defense against unjust taxes. This is what happened with Tai Ji Men, he said, which shows that Taiwan’s democracy certainly has aspects in need of being improved.
Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, then introduced several witnesses, commenting that Tai Ji Men’s is a terrible case of both tax injustice and violation of religious liberty, and should be solved without delay.
Hu Zhong-Xin, a well-known political commentator in Taiwan, reflected on the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector Jesus invited to repent. The story, Hu said, tells us that ultimately tax justice is a question of conscience, precisely what Dr. Hong has emphasized for so many years. Hu revealed that he has written twice to Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-Wen, inviting her to solve the Tai Ji Men case, and stated that supporting Tai Ji Men today in Taiwan is a moral and political imperative.
Professor Wuh Chih-Kuang, chairperson of the Department of Law at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan, returned to the fact that, when finally the National Taxation Bureau accepted that Tai Ji Men owed no taxes for the years other than 1992, it still maintained that for 1992 all remedies had been exhausted and the tax bill should be paid. Obviously, he said, this does not make sense logically, as nothing happened in 1992 that was different from the other years with respect to how gifts were given by dizi to their Grand Master. He noted that provisions to correct administrative decisions that are obviously wrong exist in Taiwanese law, but bureaucrats are unwilling to use them.
Jennifer Hung, a dizi from California who holds a doctorate in business administration, reminisced about old trips with Dr. Hong to spread Tai Ji Men’s message of love and peace. She then mentioned a recent trip to Washington DC to promote a different but not unrelated message. She attended the International Religious Freedom Summit to make the large audience who was there aware of the persecution of Tai Ji Men, whose main features she summarized in the webinar, hoping that President Tsai may personally intervene and solve the 25-year old case.
Lily Chen, a dizi living in the United States, recalled her experiences of traveling to several countries with Dr. Hong to promote Tai Ji Men peace activities, which were supported by heads of state and other authorities. Chen reported how moving was ringing Tai Ji Men’s Bell of Peace in the U.S. twenty years ago, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and bringing Dr. Hong’s peace message to Hawaii. The then mayor of Honolulu, Mr. Jeremy Harris, presented the Award of Merit from the City and County of Honolulu to Dr. Hong and proclaimed September 16, 2001 as “Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy and Dr. Hong Tao-Tze Day.” Dizi went recently to Hawaii to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that memorable trip.
Dr. Clair Lo, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences in Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, reported that as a dizi she participated in several Tai Ji Men protests against the illegal tax bills. She had the opportunity to meet other victims of tax injustice, which led her to think that “if illegal tax bills were a knife, Taiwan would be a river of blood.” She also tried to understand the mindset of the tax bureaucrats, and concluded that for some of them the interests of the National Taxation Bureau come before human rights. Some high bureaucrats said this explicitly.
Lan Hui-Ting, a professional nurse in Taiwan, recalled how she started practicing qigong and self-cultivation in Tai Ji Men with her parents when she was in elementary school. When Dr. Hong was arrested and accused, absurdly, of “raising goblins,” she was still very young, but suffered because she was bullied by schoolmates asking her, “How do you raise goblins in Tai Ji Men?” She was very pleased when Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were finally found innocent of all charges, but surprised that the tax case against Tai Ji Men continued. This led her to an interest in the problems of tax justice and the realization that victims of tax injustice in Taiwan are more than she initially believed.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, told of his life-long interest for the International Day of Peace since it was established in 1981, and his persuasion that fighting for religious liberty of all believers is necessary to guarantee world peace. He commented on the previous speeches stating that tax exemptions and acknowledgements of their work for peace have been more easily granted to historical religions than to new religious and spiritual movements. Tai Ji Men, he said, is an example of how certain movements can be discriminated and persecuted when they are perceived as not supporting the political power that be. Tai Ji Men is one of the spiritual groups most active in the promotion of world peace, Fautré noted in conclusion. That makes the persecution even more difficult to understand, and something that should be urgently stopped, a message also embodied in the new Tai Ji Men musical video that concluded the event.