Taipei, July 21 (CNA) In the face of a rumor sweeping social media that the government will ban the religious practice of burning incense and ghost money and setting off firecrackers, the Presidential Office issued a firm denial on Friday, saying that there are no plans for any such move.
Presidential Office spokesman Sidney Lin (林鶴明) said the recent reports on the Internet that the government will "terminate" the incense-burning tradition and clamp down on religious freedom by setting regulations to guide religious activities are nothing more than rumors.
"In a democratic country, freedom of faith is a basic right. No government can or will interfere with religious freedom," said Lin.
Lin noted that the government is well aware that burning incense and ghost money is a long-standing practice in Taiwan. The relevant authorities will try to acquire a balance between environmental protection and traditional beliefs in its efforts to reduce air pollution.
With respect to local customs, the government will encourage temples to reduce the burning of incense and ghost money and improve quality controls on the ghost money and incense used at temples, while trying to gradually change the mindsets of temple-goers, Lin added.
He also called for the public to refrain from spreading false rumors.
Minister of the Interior Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) also declared that the government has never thought of wiping out incense burners at temples around the country, even though environmental protection departments have been promoting a reduction in burning incense and ghost money as part of efforts to prevent and control air pollution.
The government knows it has to be very careful when addressing the issue, as it involves a very important religious and cultural traditions, Yeh said.
A group of temple representatives from Beigang Township in Yunlin County, central Taiwan has organized many temples from all over the country to stage a rally in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei on Saturday to oppose the so-called "incense termination" action by the government.
Beigang Wude Temple Chairman Lin An-le (林安樂) said on Friday that the rally on Ketagalan Boulevard is not aimed at protesting but at appealing for the respect of civil beliefs and for autonomous management of temples.
On his Facebook page, Lin posted a statement in which he blasted the government's long-term goal of "zero incineration" of ghost money and incense as a "hostile" policy.
Lin urged the relevant authorities to guide local temples to set up special incinerators for ghost money; to set regulations governing the use of firecrackers in temple activities, instead of banning it; and to help improve the cultural events involving temples instead of setting restrictions on them.
(By Lu Hsin-hui, Hsieh Chia-chen, Yeh Tzu-kang and Elizabeth Hsu)ENDITEM/J