News at Tipitaka Network
Draft law to strengthen Buddhism criticised as 'draconian'
AKI, Friday, November 2, 2007
Bangkok (Thailand) A draft law, purportedly meant to strengthen the stance of Buddhism in Thailand, is coming under fire with critics calling it "draconian" and "politically motivated".
The draft, currently discussed by lawmakers, was proposed by 179 members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), some of whom were also behind the failed push to include Buddhism as the national religion in the 2007 Constitution.
The signatories argue that “the law is needed as there is not one protecting and promoting Buddhism and looking after the faithful.”
In Thailand, where 95 percent of the 65 million people are Buddhists, there is currently only one law that regulate Buddhist monks, who account for 0.5 percent of the faithful.
Critics, however, have voiced concerns.
In an article for the The Bangkok Post, veteran journalist and commentator Sanitsuda Ekachai slammed the law. He also warned that, if it were approved, it would lead to a further distancing of the average Thai from the monks.
“This draft bill is essentially about clinging to power and selfishness. It is yet another proof of how far our clergy has drifted away from the Buddha's way,” he said.
“Declining public trust in the clergy stems from its closed, feudalistic system based on dictatorial power which rewards ambitious, greedy monks. Strengthening this feudal system can lead us nowhere but downward,” he added.
The draft bill sets a jail term of 10-25 years and/or a fine of 500,000-1,000,000 baht [11,000 to 22,000 euro] for insulting, offending, imitating and distorting Buddhism and the Buddha and a jail term of 5-10 years and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 baht for damaging Buddhist objects, personnel and places.
People who have any form of sexual affair with monks, novices and nuns are liable to five to 10 years in jail and/or a fine of 100,000-500,000 baht.
However, the bill does not include any punishments for monks, novices and nuns who engage in sexual relations.
Punishment for physically assaulting monks, novices and nuns would be three times those stipulated by law.
The bill acknowledges the status of nuns as Buddhist priestesses for the first time on the condition they must be ordained by an abbot or a person authorised by an abbot.
Furthermore, the draft bill states that any state policies in support of Buddhism must also be supportive of the clergy's central governing body and administrative structures.
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