Korea was a Buddhist country 120 years ago, with only a few thousand Christians, mostly Catholics, who faced intense persecution. By the 1960s, Korea had about a million Christians, but their numbers exploded in the decades that followed. Today, Christianity has grown overtaking Buddhism as the dominant religion in South Korea. About 30 per cent of South Korea's 49 million people are Christians, compared to 22 per cent for Buddhists.
With President Lee Myung-Bak who is a devout Christian assuming power issues have boiled over. Conflict between Buddhists and the Lee Myung-bak government has escalated with Buddhists openly denouncing what they call a series of discriminative measures against the religion.
Tensions grew late last month after police stopped a car carrying Reverend Jigwan, the Buddhist order of Jogye's respected head monk, outside Jogye-sa temple and searched the car.
The 1,200-year-old order has around eight million followers, making it South Korea's largest religious sect.
Reverend Hyegyeong, head of the Jogye order's administrative office says
"President Lee's favouritism of Christianity has led to the government's unequal treatment of different religions"
Buddists also cite several issues like temple information being unavailable in GPS navigational systems in cars. In June, it was found that a transportation information service provided by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs did not include locations of temples across the nation. Days later, it was also found that information maps for the Cheonggye Stream, which is Lee's most symbolic achievement during his Seoul mayorship, omitted temples.
Almost at the same period, police chief Eo appeared on a poster promoting a Christian event for police, aggravating the Buddhist backlash against the government's ``pro-Christian'' attitude.
Even before these incident, a feud between Lee and Buddhist leaders had been brewing after he appointed fellow churchgoers to key government posts. Opponents accused Lee of installing several of his church friends, including Lee Kyung-sook, a former chief of the now-defunct presidential transition team.
Former presidential secretary Choo Bu-ghil stepped down after making a contentious speech in a Christian prayer ceremony in which he called anti-U.S. beef candlelight protesters "satanic."
In May, President Lee's staff failed to send cards delivering his congratulatory message to Buddhist monks nationwide on Buddha's Birthday, breaking an annual tradition.