22 September, 2020

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Let Not The State In A Plural State Enforce The Religious Code Of A Majority Community

By R.M.B Senanayake

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

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.

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Latest comments

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    Dear Mr Senanayake
    I completely agree with your premise. There just isn’t enough tolerance of religions other than Buddhism in this country anymore. A lot of this has been initiated under political agendas, which will ultimately do us no good – as we saw over the past 30 years. Let’s hope sanity will prevail.

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      There are a couple of things to be done on an urgent basis to preserve religious harmony in Lanka.

      1. Civil Society groups and opposition MUST draft and submit a BILL ON THE PROTECTION AND PRESERVATION OF MULTICULTURALISM AND PREVENTION OF INCITEMENT TO RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC HATRED (there is a similar bill in Britain) and lobby the Minister for National Languages and Social Integration to table and have it passed in Parliament.
      Today only the Rajapassa regime brings Bills to Parliament and passes the most retroograde Bills – the opposition has done nothing constructive in the Parliament – to build bi-partisan consensus to protect and preserve MULTICULTURALISM which is under attack from Gota the Goon’s DEEP STATE that is consolidating his military dictatorship with funding from the WORLD BANK to the Urban Development Authority run by Defense Ministry – that is shifting out all mosques, churches and kovils from anywhere there is a Bo tree or a racist Buddhist monk sits..
      2. Pathala Champika Rnawaka should be arrested and tried for his role along with the Chief Priest of the Temple @ Grandpass that harboued the attackers and the head of Balu Sena for Incitement to Religious Hatred and public disorder. These two are an insult to Buddhism and give Buddhists in Lanka a bad name.

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    /*
    The canon law of the Church of England states, “We acknowledge that the Queen’s most excellent Majesty, acting according to the laws of the realm, is the highest power under God in this kingdom, and has supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil.”
    */

    The Church of England is protected by its head of state. The power is exercised through Parliament and the Prime Minister. In Ceylon its the Parliment that does the same with Buddhism.

    Why does the state need to protect Buddhism in Ceylon? Why does Queen act of behalf of Church of England? Why does the Vatican exist to protect and propagate Catholism? The answer for all questions remain the same. In all cases the state remains the original custodian of each faith.

    Its from Ceylon Theravahda was propagated to all present day Theravahda nations, Burma Thailand etc. Just as Anglicanism gives England its character Theravadha underlines the character of Ceylon. Theravadha however is widely considered authentic unlike a faith borne for a need to satisfy polygamy.

    /*
    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?
    */

    Theravadha is not a religion being agnostic. Take away god, the moral code is basically the same as religions. Instead of depending on Extra Terrestrials Theravadha asks living beings to be the owner of his/her salvation. A god believer can if one needs follow Buddhist practice without angering their own gods. Therefore threats from Buddhists to others and vise versa is superficial.

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    Look buddy – representing the Christians and talking bull… i suppose u have nice things to say about christian rule… what did u guys do in Vietnam…

    u guys are only fighting it off with the muslims and nicely palming the blame to the buddhists.. just go and preach somewhere else

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    Britain gave us a secular democratic constitution with protection to the minorities.

    The Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian rulers thereafter removed the protection (clause 29) of the minority rights. Then discrimination in language and religious rights followed.

    Now the state is openly flouting all minority rights: Churches, Hindu temples and Mosques are damaged/destroyed/moved with impunity at the whims and fancies of the extremist Sinhala Buddhists inside and outside the government. Tamils’ language rights are denied.

    This must stop, and we must go back to a secular state if Sri Lanka is to survive peacefully and prosper.

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    The Roman Catholic Church has always been opposed to Chapter 2 Section 9. It doesn’t give them the free hand they want to fulfill their agenda. Don’t tell me we’re going back to LH Mettananda and Catholic Action? Then again, the war against the heathen never ceased, it just took a different form with Sunday schools renamed daham paselas and children walking in Christian peraheras.

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    Was SWRD a Buddhist? Unfortunately the”Sinhala Buddhist” tag is being used by politicians and anti-Buddhists in fact to delete a Buddhist country. What happened to Indonesia, Maldives etc? What happened to Thaxila? Mr.R.M.B. if you point of view is genuine why not prevail on the Catholic Church not to object to American Evangelical churches that are mushrooming in Sri Lanka?

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    Mr. R.M.B. Senanayake,

    “We must campaign for the deletion of Chapter 2.” Did it ever occur to you that there may be a reason why such a clause was made part of the constitution? Was Buddhism not nearly wiped out when the Europeans were living in Sri lanka hundreds of years ago? Isn’t the overwhelming number of conversions which were and is still taking place in Sri Lanka another danger to the downfall of Buddhism? Could these be two out of many other reasons for the existence of Chapter 2?

    “Then all religions will be on an equal footing.” Does your definition of all religions will be on an equal footing focus on the conversion tactics used by certain groups of Christians and Muslim who target helpless and poverty stricken Buddhists?

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