Thailand: No room for a national religion

Bangkok Post, May 8, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- The fight over Buddhism as the national religion of Thailand was a bad idea from the start. It is not as if Buddhism is under attack. Some conservative followers think a special legal status might strengthen Buddhism. It is difficult to see how.

On the other hand, it is simple to see how followers of other religions might fear that the dominant religion would suddenly get even more privileges, perhaps at their cost.

Violent southern gangs already are trying to cause a Muslim-Buddhist rift that has never existed.

Buddhism already has such a special role in Thailand that it has an extraordinary place, as one of our country's three institutions.

Nation, religion and monarchy are embedded in the heart of every Thai, have been enshrined in every legal document including constitutions.

Each Thai is reminded of the three institutions every time he or she looks at the flag. The specific institution of ''religion'' among this inviolable trio encompasses Buddhism first of all. But it also demonstrates the middle way. The Thai institution of religion, by tradition and by law, means freedom of religion, and peaceful co-existence of all beliefs.

There is no room in the supreme law for any special religion. The world knows Thailand is a Buddhist country, with strong traditions and cultural roots in the religion.

And of course, Thais themselves know their nation is Buddhist in nature. Inserting Buddhism as a state religion in the constitution cannot make Thailand more Buddhist. Neither can it strengthen Buddhism.

Declaring a state religion for Thailand will cause the outside world and - far more importantly - millions of Thais to wonder what legal force is planned to limit or to diminish the many other religions and their millions of adherents.