Adventists in Korea and Denmark Have Won Key Legal Decisions Protecting Sabbath Rights
From APD, 28 March 2019 | A medical student in the Republic of Korea won a Supreme Court decision protecting him from required exams scheduled on the Sabbath, and a public school teacher in Denmark was reinstated by a government commission after he was fired for refusing to work on Sabbath. Both are significant precedents for Adventists and other Sabbath-keepers in these two nations.
After two years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court of South Korea ruled on January 31 that Adventist medical student Han Ji Man must be released on Saturdays from taking university exams. Adventists in South Korea hope that this judgment will usher in a new era of legal protection for Sabbath-keepers, reports the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) of the denomination’s General Conference (GC).
“This ruling is historically important for Korean Adventists and provides a precedent that can be used for future actions on issues of Sabbath observance,” said Sun Hwan Kim, head of the PARL department in the GC’s Northern Asia-Pacific Division. “This wonderful judgment,” he added, “would not have happened if … Brother Han had not been faithful.”
According to the PARL department, Adventists have had a long struggle in South Korea with Sabbath observance because the entrance exams at universities and colleges often take place on Saturdays. Therefore, many church members have sacrificed their education and career to remain faithful to their convictions. Although the Korean constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, the courts had not yet extended this protection to the issue of Sabbath observance.
Han’s lawsuit began as a medical student in his first year, when he discovered that a number of important exams were scheduled on Saturdays. After inconclusive talks with school administrators, he began litigation. An initial appeal to the National Human Rights Commission also did not resolve his difficulties.
Han then appealed to a higher court and won. The medical school appealed against this decision to the Supreme Court of the country and lost the case. The outcome is that religious freedom in the Republic of Korea has received “a more solid constitutional protection,” reports the PARL department. Adventists in South Korea hope this decision will be the legal basis for protections for Sabbath-keeping for believers in many areas of Korean society.
An Adventist employed as a public high school teacher, who was fired for refusal to participate in an open house event on Sabbath, has had his claim for protection of religious rights upheld by the Danish Equal Treatment Board. The board’s judgement that the school was in breach of the Equal Treatment Act made headlines in several Danish news media such as Ankestyrelsen. The leading newspaper for ethics and religion, Kristeligt Dagblad ran the story on its front page.
The institution demanded the teacher’s attendance despite being fully aware of his religious convictions. The teacher, who has not been named for legal reasons, testified that this had never been a problem on previous occasions as he had always been able to find a replacement to fill in on the event. On this occasion the Adventist teacher had prepared a detailed written description for a substitute teacher to follow and had also instructed senior students that were to participate and help at the event.
The Adventist denomination in Denmark supported the teacher throughout the process. The school was given 14 days to pay compensation to the teacher or go to court.
”I am relieved that the case has been decided to our advantage,” said Pastor Thomas Müller, president of the denomination’s Danish Union Conference. “This verdict will be an encouragement to other members to stay faithful to their convictions. The Sabbath is a precious gift and blessing that we should uphold and defend,” he added.
Denmark has a long history of religious freedom, but there has been some uncertainty as to how well religious minorities are protected in the work place. “This case has made it clear that employers must practice reasonable accommodation towards the religious beliefs and practices of its employees,” states Lasse Bech, PARL director for the denomination in Denmark.
Bech notes that many workplaces promote themselves as having values that welcome religious and ethnic diversity. He recognizes that in most cases institutions and companies are led by professional management that seek to find a pragmatic solution when the needs of the workplace conflict with a matter of conscience for one of its staff. He said, “A few employers are less tolerant, but rarely do we see someone losing their jobs because of this.”
APD is the Adventist news service in Europe.