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Non-Christians denied jobs at public schools in Korea

Lee Tae-hoon
Written by Lee Tae-hoon

Non-Christian native English teachers have been denied employment at public schools in Cheonan since 2008 due to the recruiters’ decision to hire only evangelical Christians for the state-funded jobs.

“KNU is looking for teachers who are evangelical Christians to teach the students with the love of God at various schools in Cheonan City,” reads a recruitment announcement by Korea Nazarene University (KNU).

Moon Kyung-hee, a Cheonan city official, claimed that the city government respects the KNU’s hiring practices as it has given complete authority to the university to recruit native-English teachers for public schools at the Special District of International Education.

“From a supervisor’s point of view, KNU is doing a good job of screening candidates,” Moon told The Korea Observer.

“As KNU belongs to the Protestant denominations, they are against smoking and drinking, and good at screening teachers who may make troubles at school.”

KNU has been the sole contractor to recruit English teachers for public schools in the city’s Special District of International Education over the past six years. Of 83 native English teachers hired this year at public schools in the city, KNU was responsible for recruiting 54.

“Everyone who applies to work as a public school teacher through KNU must submit a resume and a testimony that they are Christian,” a native teacher who had applied for a position said.

“If you don’t say you are a Christian, then they will not hire you.”


Public English teachers hired through Korea Nazarene University at a Nazarene church in Cheonan. Source: Korea Nazarene University’s website

An official at the Human Rights Commission of Korea said employment discrimination based on religion is a violation of the human rights law and there is no excuse for KNU to run advertisements that clearly state that only Evangelical Christians are eligible and employees should attend a Nazarene church.

Meanwhile, Sean Jones, who graduated from a Nazarene University in the United States, claimed that he was humiliated by a KNU official during a job interview for a public school job position.

“During the face to face interview, I was asked why black people have bad attitudes, why are they lazy,” he said. “She made the statement that we are not clean and do not try hard enough.”

KNU made the headlines earlier this month for posting a job advertisement with the line “drinking, smoking and homosexuality are not allowed.”

Professor Han Eun-hee, head of KNU’s public school teachers’ recruitment program argued that she is not aware of any discrimination against job seekers as she recently joined the program.

“I was recently assigned to program,” she argued.

“In order to find more qualified teachers, we need to recruit people from a large pool of talented people.”

However, when asked why her name appears on discriminatory advertisements dating back to 2008, she reluctantly acknowledged that she has been involved in the program for the past six years.

Denying any involvement in KNU’s discriminatory practices, she argued that anyone is eligible to apply for public school teaching positions through KNU but it will be up to the selection committee to make hiring decisions.

Park Jong-seung, an inspector at Cheonan Office of Education, said he was surprised to learn about KNU’s discriminatory recruitment advertisements and that his office will consider launching an investigation into the university’s discriminatory practices.

In 2014, 2.1 billion won ($1.9 million) has been allocated to hire teachers through KNU. The university’s English teacher recruitment program is entirely funded by tax payers’ money.

You can read more about KNU’s discriminatory policies from the following article, “A Christian University in Korea Declares ‘No Job for Homosexuals

The followings are some of the links related to KNU’s discriminatory recruitment policies on public teaching positions. 








About the author

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon

Lee Tae-hoon is publisher at The Korea Observer. He previously worked for the Korea Times and Arirang TV. You can reach him at lee@koreaobserver.com.

  • in the groove

    I think better qualified unbalances this survey. That the government should pay one entity to hire on contract is another matter. Perhaps the government should review how it disburses its money, or allows more input for hiring standards, from which any contract given would have to adhere to. As for KNU itself, it is a private university and has the right to restrict its hiring to its preferences, We should not Americanize Korean culture just because we want the same rights.

    • William George

      “We should not Americanize Korean culture just because we want the same rights.”

      This is the most fucking stupid comment I’ve read in a long time, and I used to frequent ESL Cafe.

      • http://whoismaja.blog.me/ Queen Maja

        exactly, Korean is a member of the UN. They said they are committed to preserving human rights.

    • Baz

      I take it you didn’t read the article properly. This involves public funds and schools. Buddhists, agnostics, and Catholics also pay taxes. Thus, Nazarene would only include people who mirror a minority of Koreans. It’s a violation of human rights, and it is an insult to Koreans who are not Evangelicals. You can do that with private funds, if you will, but not public funds. This is backwards.

  • Zack Church

    this article paints it as if ALL public school TESOL jobs in Cheonan are done through KNU–they aren’t. In my two years in Cheonan, I’ve known many teachers through Epik, Fullbright, and other programs, as well as schools that hired teachers through external recruiters or direct hired. It is perfectly possible to get a job at a public school as a non-Christian in Cheonan.

    Granted, that is somewhat beside the point, if the point is that government jobs are going exclusively to Christians. I’d point out that this is a joint agreement between the city and the university, and funds come from both organizations when everything is considered–the teachers are housed at the University for the first 6 months, there are multiple full-time positions at the university to take care of housing, taxes, pension, setting up phones, etc., which takes the stress of doing this off of head teachers at schools. A private organization gets a government
    contract by helping the tax payers pay less–and as they are housing these teachers on their campus, as well as sending them out around the city under their name, it makes perfect sense to me that they would want people who hold similar values in those positions.

    Also,has the author spoken to any specific person who was rejected from this program for not being a Christian? I know multiple people who have been with the KNU program who don’t go to a church, and weren’t refused entry nor have they been expelled from the program.

    • Jae Min

      Doesn’t matter who knows about it or who condoned it, it still wrong and violates human right norms from around the world. Defending their choice to proceed in this fashion makes you look bigote.

      • Hal

        Nothing of what Zack has written makes him a bigot. That word may be the preferred pejorative of our generations Zeitgeist, but using it anytime you don’t like what someone says actually makes it less useful. Zack works in Cheonan as a foreign English teacher, regardless of his opinions, I’d say this make him much more suited than most to describe the situation. That he is trying to see more than the one view presented in the article actually makes him the opposite of a bigot. It makes him open-minded. There are definitely problems with the way KNU has handled the public teaching program Cheonan City assigned to them, but everyone grabbing their pitchforks to burn these heretics to Secularism at the stake is quite literally the least helpful thing. That is a measure in group-think, and bigotry, not what Zack has offered here. There is so much cultural context at play in this situation, things particular to a more traditional Korean mindset, that to just paint the situation with broad strokes of an Americanized or Globalized view will be counter productive. Education, not reprimand is needed here. Since you have a Korean name, I will assume that you understand this nuance quite well.

        But let’s leave the belittling accusations out of this. Bigot =/= someone who disagrees with you. If someone refuses to even hear the opposing side, then they are a bigot. Zack assuredly has not done as such.

  • thekoreaobserver

    Zack, we understand ur concerns. But the article states that “KNU has been the sole contractor to recruit English teachers for public schools in the city’s Special District of International Education over the past six years. Of 83 native English teachers hired this year at public schools in the city, KNU was responsible for recruiting 54. “

  • Uhhuh

    54 out of 83. How does that make them the sole contractor?

    • thekoreaobserver

      The university has the sole contractor to recruit English teachers for public schools “in the city’s Special District of International Education” Not the whole city.

  • Lonzo

    I love that the person responsible for the ads blatantly lied about her period of involvement. “Thou shalt lie to save thine ass from human rights abuse criticism.” I don’t remember reading that commandment in Sunday school. 😛

    • Mina Yena

      she is a lip service Christian,actually its a common trend for korean christians to lie and give false eveidence about whatever that can make them feel better than those they ve lsess respect for. for instance africans are the cursed ,yet they ve poor brothers and sisters next to them in the north.you ve to do as the leader say as if he holds your ticket to heaven. considering leaving my church ,though the missionaries we ve back home are slightly different

      • jrjaguar

        Korean Christianism is in a bad shape… :'(

  • Hal

    While I am in agreement with the general thrust of the article, this is at best an example ideological activism, and not objective reporting.

    The situation in Cheonan is so much more complex than this makes it out to be. Not every international situation can be fixed by an overabundance of Western colonialism being slapped on it. The KNU program was started and organized by the city government. They told KNU, which is just the managing organization, the standards by which they were to function. To make it seem like KNU is just a group of anti-human rights Christians trying to force their religion on people is ridiculous. This is more an issue of deep seeded Korean cultural assumptions than anything to do with religion. I know this first hand. The city chose KNU because the city leaders directly expressed a desire for the college to recruit Christians, who the government leaders assumed would fit the Korean stereotype of Protestant Evangelicals, i.e., no drinking, smoking, not homosexual, etc. That is a common cultural assumption, but not a truism for all and every Korean. That is the most influencing factor here. The recent string of news stories concerning Korean stereotyping of various races, nationalities and religious people only serves to support the fact that this is a deeper issue.

    I was the first teacher to touch down in Korea for this program, and I went through its even more rocky beginning stages. Attending a Korean Nazarene church wasn’t in the first draft of the contract, that was added later, but they still tried to force us to do as much while I was in the program. The 6 of us at the time all met with the university’s president to respectfully lodge a complaint about this, as we too (though all 6 of us were Christians) felt it wrong to force members of the program to attend church, and particularly force us to attend assigned churches. Following that, the program stopped pressuring us, and we had freedom to attend, or not, the church of our choosing.

    After I left the program, I heard that KNU was again attempting to force church attendance on the foreign teachers. This was again allowed by the government, and it of course aligned with the evangelical desire of the university.

    All this said, the point is that this article emphasizes one aspect of a very, very large cultural issue. It does so to be good click-bait. Like all sensational news reporting, the bigger the conflict can be made to seem, the better. Counter to this, let me give you some real facts. I still live in Cheonan, though I don’t work for the program anymore. I know most of the 60+ teachers in it currently however. Most are Christians, but not all. I know that many enjoy a beer now and then, including the Christians. I personally know homosexuals in the program, and they are appreciated educators. This article is nothing but reporting-lite, and does more harm than good.

    As I said in a response to a comment below, what situations like this need is a lot more mutual respect, education, and understanding that what we Westerners push as “international rights” take time to grow within non-western cultures. You can’t change 4000 year old cultures overnight. Christians and secular people of good will need to come together over issues like this, and be aware of the complexity involved, not fight over secondary aspects.

    • gordsellar

      You’re also pretending that this kind of thing is pan-cultural and that there aren’t plenty of enlightened, progressive Koreans who find this kind of thing abhorrent. But, Hal, there are; I know plenty of Koreans personally who are horrified by this kind of thing, when they encounter it in contexts that have nothing to do with foreigners; indeed, over the last decade or so there has been increasing criticism of precisely this kind of thing in those contexts.

      There are several large cultural issues, in other words; you’re making it out to be a cultural issue about foreigners in Korea. But in a Korean context, it’s yet another case of a Korean Protestant church overstepping the bounds of decency, common sense, and sanity, and doing so while abusing power through government channels.

      After all, there is obviously some degree of complicity between the local government and this one evangelical church. When you write, “The city chose KNU because the city leaders directly expressed a desire for the college to recruit Christians, who the government leaders assumed would fit the Korean stereotype of Protestant Evangelicals, i.e., no drinking, smoking, not homosexual,” you don’t really define “the city.” I’m guessing in this case “the city” is specific powerful members of that church in Cheonan city hall, abusing their power by (a) granting the hiring controls to a religious institution and (b) allowing explicitly (and crazily) religious clauses into the contracts. Which, if you’ve been paying attention over the last couple of administrations, falls directly in line with the kind of abuses of power that Christians in government in Korea have been involved in. (The striking of Buddhist temples off tourist maps being only one, albeit a well-publicized, example.)

      It’s also worth noting that most Koreans aren’t protestant evangelicals and that among them, another stereotype of Protestant evangelicals exists which is quite negative: corruption, sex scandals, nepotism, bigotry against every other religion or group… so, again, the decision made by city hall is unlikely to reflect the desires of the populace as a whole… ie. abuse of power.

  • Noname

    The hiring laws in Korean need to be updated to strengthen to protect against any kind of racism overt or otherwise. It is common in ads for hiring teachers to specify gender, age, race, and religion here in Korea. Take a look through the “big board” where most ESL teachers search for jobs.

    I have worked at a Christian college in Korea and in terms of the way teachers were treated it was one of the most horrid experiences. The teachers were required to pray before classes and the students were required to attend church service once a week as freshman whether they were religious or not. In talking individually with students who transferred to other schools, they were happy to not be going there anymore.

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