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Thailand: No reason to have state religion

Two Letters to the Editor (in Bangkok Post, April 30, 2007)

Saturday 5 May 2007

There is no legitimate reason to make Buddhism the state religion of Thailand. Here are some of the reasons why:

- The Kingdom of Thailand is already a Buddhist country with a majority of over 90 per cent of its citizens professing Buddhism, mainly Hinayana (so-called Lesser Vehicle). No other religion practised in the kingdom is challenging this majority position in the hearts and minds of the people.

- Which form of Buddhism would become the state religion _ Mahayana (Greater Vehicle), Hinayana, Tantric, Soka Gakkai, etc?

And if Hinayana is chosen, which sect would it be _ Dhammayut, Mahanikaya, Dhammakaya, etc? Who will decide which form or sect of Buddhism will be chosen?

- The Kingdom of Thailand is one of the few countries on earth (including the United States of America) that possesses real freedom of religion. This is mainly due to the fact that His Majesty the King is protector of all religions in the kingdom. A second very important reason is that until now, Thailand has had no official state religion.

Why now should Thailand take a major step backward from the religious enlightenment and freedom it presently enjoys?

- Each religion currently practised in the kingdom has equal status under the law. If Buddhism (whichever form chosen) is made the state religion, will all other religions become subject to discrimination and potential targets of persecution by any politician wanting to use religion as a tool to gather support for himself?

These are very serious questions Thai people of all religious persuasions should be asking. Thailand has a long and enlightened history of religious freedom guaranteed by the person of His Majesty the King himself. Why change what is good and right for all the people of Thailand, no matter what religion they wish to practise?

Chiang Mai

Nothing to be gained

PM Surayud is right to suspect a hidden agenda behind the move to name Buddhism the state religion.

I see little, if anything, to be gained by such a move and much to lose. Time and again our sage and beloved King has called for unity, and emphasising to our non-Buddhist brethren that they are different from us will only drive us apart. Down south, which is already aflame, such a move will pour oil on those flames.

Those in favour of singling Buddhism out should ask themselves: What would the Buddha have done? Did he seek to mix religion and state and if so, why?

Those who want Buddhism to be our state religion say it will merely be recognising reality, because 94.6 per cent of Thais are Buddhists. True, but, similarly, almost all Japanese are Buddhists and the Japanese constitution not only omits all designation of a state religion, it specifically separates religion from state. We should study their reasons for so doing.

Just because most Thais are Buddhists doesn’t mean we need a state religion any more than because most Thais are male means we need a state gender. All faiths are treated equally, and that’s the way it should be. Leave the state out of it.