By R.M.B Senanayake –
In plural state where there are religious minorities it is not conducive for peace to have a theocratic State where the religious precepts of the majority religion are sought to be implemented by the State. So today in Tunisia and Egypt there is a struggle by those who stand for the State to enforce the Sharia law on all citizens whether Muslim or Non-Muslim. These two parties are now locked in a violent struggle. It is the same in Afghanistan and Pakistan where the Taliban want Sharia law to be enforced by the State. The modern democratic state is a liberal state where the citizen is free to practice his own religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN recognizes these rights.
It was the USA that for the first time recognized the need for a secular State and insisted on a separation between the Church and the State. Previously in Europe after the Reformation there was persecution and violent conflict between the majority and minority in all the Christian countries of Europe. It was after the long drawn out 30 years war which ended with the Treaty of Westphalia that the right of religious tolerance was accepted and the obligation was cast on the ruler to ensure such tolerance. Since 1948 the UN Declaration has been accepted by most of the countries of the world. But these rights have not been written into their Constitutions in the same explicit way. Our own Constitution leaves room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
We have in the 1972 Constitution Chapter 2. A clause which refers to Buddhism
CHAPTER II – BUDDHISM
9. The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e)
(e) the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.
These constitutional provisions are too vague and give rise to various interpretations. What is the duty of the State to protect Buddhism? Is it the Buddhist religious teachings which are a moral code? The other religions too have their own moral codes and they are at variance with that of Buddhism. Will the practice of their own moral codes constitute a threat to Buddhism as is interpreted by some Buddhists? If so it is a small step from there to argue that the other religions are threats to Buddhism and since it is explicitly stated that it is the duty of the State to protect Buddhism (obviously from its enemies?). Who then are the enemies of Buddhism?
This is the issue today with allegations of unethical conversions by Christians and Muslims being accused of conspiring to become the majority community by unchecked reproduction. They are also accused of practicing religious practices which are opposed to and anathema to Buddhists who oppose the killing of animals for food particularly cattle.
The imposition of a religious cum moral code of one religious group upon others who don’t subscribe it is the issue figuring today in all Muslim countries where there is a demand for Sharia to e the law of the State. The law of any State must reflect a moral code. But such moral code must be the least common denominator of all religions. The criminal laws presently in force in most ex-colonial countries reflect the western moral code. The extremists want to replace it with Sharia or some other religious code of the Buddhists. But this contest between a secular State and a Religious State is leading to violence where there are religious minorities. It will cause anarchy in such countries as in Syria now and Iraq to follow. Will Sri Lanka Follow?
We must campaign for the deletion of Chapter 2. Then all religions will be on an equal footing. The choice is between a secular State and a Religious State.