Charter drafters against making Buddhism state religion

After much debate on making Buddhism Thailand’s state religion, the constitutional drafters have dropped the proposal, saying that it could lead to danger in the future.

According to Matichon Online, Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), revealed on Monday, 11 January 2016, that the new constitutional draft will not include a sentence saying ‘Buddhism is the national religion [of Thailand].Announcing the CDC’s resolution at a mobile meeting in Cha Am District of Phetchaburi Province, Meechai said that making Buddhism a state religion could lead to ‘dangers’ in the long run.

Instead of enshrining Buddhism as the country’s official religion, the new constitutional draft will instead include measures to protect and support Buddhism, added the CDC chairman.

With over 90 per cent of Thai citizens identifying themselves as Buddhists, many Buddhist organisations, such as the Buddhist Academics Association (BAA) and Voluntary Buddhist Council of Civil Society (VBCCS) since last year have been calling on the Thai authorities to make Buddhism a state religion.

To support the proposal, the Buddhist organizations last year initiated a campaign to collect one million names to support the plan.

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, in November 2015 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 prosecution of people who think differently under the allegation [that they] ‘insult Buddhism’.”

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