Centre for Policy Alternatives on 1 August, 2016

Buddhism and the Regulation of Religion in the New Constitution: Past Debates, Present Challenges, and Future Options

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The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is pleased to publish the third paper in the CPA Working Papers on Constitutional Reform series on Buddhism and the Regulation of Religion in the New Constitution: Past Debates, Present Challenges, and Future Options, by Dr Benjamin Schonthal (Senior Lecturer in Buddhism and Asian Religions, University of Otago) and Dr Asanga Welikala (Research Fellow, CPA).

This Working Paper offers a legal and historical overview of the issue of Buddhism in Sri Lanka’s constitution, with a view to advancing discussions beyond the normal terms of public debate that tend to frame the issue. At the centre of most public discussions of the Buddhism Chapter – from both defenders and critics alike – is a concern with the Buddhism Chapter’s expressive functions, its role in communicating and endorsing a hierarchy of religions. While this function is important, it is not the only important matter to consider. Also vital for constitutional discussions is an awareness of the Buddhism Chapter’s history and its regulatory functions, its legal effects on society when used as an instrument of litigation. In short, the current constitution reform process will be better positioned to undertake meaningful revision of the Buddhism Chapter – or to leave it as it is – if members have a clear understanding of why previous constitutional drafters chose the words they did, while also being aware of how litigants and judges have interpreted and deployed those words over the last 40 years.

The Working Paper is structured in four sections. Sections I and II give overviews of the Buddhism Chapter’s history and its uses in litigation, and offers several “lessons” that we might drawn from that experience. In Section III, the authors use these lessons to assess the recommendations of the Public Representation Commission on Constitutional Reform (PRC), and to discuss four options available to drafters for addressing religion in the new constitution, as well as some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each option. A short Executive Summary appears at the end of the paper, distilling a number of key points from the Working Paper.

Download it here.