1 million names sought to make Buddhism state religion

Buddhist organisations in Thailand have stepped up efforts to push the Thai authorities to make Buddhism the state religion while a recent controversial poll shows that most people are in favour of the plan.

According to Daily News Online, on Thursday, 12 November 2015, Venerable Prasan Chantasaro, general secretary of the Buddhism Protection Centre of Thailand, submitted a statement to Tinnapan Nakata, the of the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA).

The joint statement, which was signed by two other Buddhist organisations, the Buddhist Academics Association and Voluntary Buddhist Council of Civil Society, calls for the NRSA to support the initiative to establish Buddhism as the state religion in the new constitution.

According to the monk, the ongoing campaign to make Buddhism a state religion will be continuously pushed through three main agencies, which are Buddhist clergymen, Buddhist universities, and a network of Buddhist organisations.   

Venerable Prasan added that most Buddhist monks and laymen throughout the country are supportive of the proposal, adding that the Buddhist organizations will seek one million names to support the plan.

The name search has already started and be finished at the end of November, the monk added.

On the same day, Jariyatam Poll, a website conducting surveys run by the Office to Promote Morality and the Three National Institutions (the Nation, Religions, and the Monarchy), states that in its survey conducted online from 10 October to 11 November 2015, 93.6 per cent of respondents agree with the plan to make Buddhism the state religion while only 6.4 per cent disagree.

Although many Buddhist monks and laypersons view favourably the move to enshrine Buddhism as the state religion, many criticise the move for potentially stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, especially as Thailand is still locked in a protracted armed conflict between the state and Muslim insurgent groups in the Deep South border region.

Vichak Panich, a Matichon columnist and expert on Buddhism and religious studies, recently posted a statement on Facebook against the plan.

“A country with a majority of its population adhering to a specific religion does not need to lift that religion above other religions and the state does not need to define religion, because it can be used as a tool to direct politics,” wrote Vichak.

He added that the ‘state version of Buddhism’ might come in a package with certain hidden agendas.

“Buddhism as a state religion is a state-promoted religion in which its interpretations serve the ideology of ‘the nation, religions, and the monarchy’ (Thailand’s national motto),” said Vichak. “This version of Buddhism never opens space for other interpretations. Therefore, it would not be strange for Buddhism, if it gets promoted as a state religion, to lead to limitations of freedoms and rights or the prosecutions of people who think differently under the allegation [that they] ‘insult Buddhism’.”