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Korea’s Supreme Court gives historic legal victory to young Adventist student

The long-awaited ruling supports a legal right to Sabbath accommodation.

Cover about Law. Statue of god of justice Themis with Flag of South Korea background. Original Statue of Justice. Femida, with scale, symbol of justice with South Korea flag, 3d rendering.

Cover about Law. Statue of god of justice Themis with Flag of South Korea background. Original Statue of Justice. Femida, with scale, symbol of justice with South Korea flag, 3d rendering.
[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

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The almost two-year legal ordeal of Han Ji Man, a young Seventh-day Adventist medical student in Korea, ended last month when the country’s Supreme Court upheld his right to take university exams outside of Sabbath hours. Adventists in Korea are celebrating the landmark ruling, issued January 31, which they hope will signal a new era of legal protection for Sabbath keepers and other people of faith.

“This verdict is historically important for Korean Adventists and provides a judicial precedent that can be used for future lawsuits on Sabbath-keeping issues,” says SunHwan Kim, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) director for the Adventist Church in the Northern Asia-Pacific region.

“This miraculous ruling,” he adds, “would not have occurred if a faithful Adventist youth, brother Han, had not stood firmly in faith.”

Adventists in Korea have long faced Sabbath-keeping difficulties, with university and professional accreditation exams often scheduled on Saturdays. Through the years, many church members have sacrificed educational or career advancement in order to stay true to their convictions. Although the Korean Constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, the courts have not, until now, extended that protection to the issue of Sabbath-keeping. 

Han Ji Man’s legal battle began when he was a first-year medical student and discovered that a number of crucial exams were scheduled on Sabbaths. He filed his lawsuit against the medical school only after talks with his professors and school administrators—and an appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea—failed to resolve his predicament.

After losing his case in the lower court, Han Ji Man appealed to Korea’s High Court and won. The medical school appealed that result to the country’s highest court—the Supreme Court. Last month, the Supreme Court deferred to the High Court’s decision, thus giving victory to Han Ji Man and upholding a more robust constitutional protection for religious freedom.

“The victory in the Supreme Court wasn’t gained by chance,” says SunHwan Kim. He points, in particular, to the tireless prayers of Korean church members—and church members from around the world—who have supported Han Ji Man throughout his legal battle. He also notes the diligent work of Han Ji Man’s attorney, Shin Myung Cheol, along with the fundraising efforts and support of the Korean Union PARL department and the Society for Religious Freedom and Equal Opportunity, a group mainly made up of Adventist medical doctors.

With this ruling, Adventists in Korea hope Sabbath accommodation will ultimately become less challenging for church members in many areas of Korean society. But just as important, according to SunHwan Kim, is the powerful example the case provides of faithfulness to God in the face of adversity. 

“I pray that brother Han’s courageous act of faith will be the footstep that other Adventist youth can step on and follow in their journey of faith,” he says.