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Thai Charter Downplays Religion, Keeps Church And State Separate

ICC Note: Despite a move by Buddhists to make Buddhism the national religion, the new draft of the Thai constitutions makes the state secular.

7/6/07 Thailand (UCAN) — A draft of the proposed new Thai Constitution has been completed, but it is unclear how greatly Christians contributed to the effort.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) voted July 6 to accept the draft constitution, which will be publicized on July 31. The people will approve or reject the constitution in a national plebiscite now scheduled for August 19, according to local media reports.

The main concern of the Thai Catholic Church during the drafting process has been that safeguards for the practice of religions stay in place.

Thailand ‘s proposed 18th constitution was drafted under the auspices of a military-appointed government that came to power following a bloodless coup last September.

In scrapping the 1997 “People’s Constitution,” the coup leaders cited weaknesses that allowed the government of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to abuse power over state institutions and benefit from corruption.

The government has announced a democratic election under the new constitution before the end of this year. According to media reports, if the people reject the new charter, the coup leaders in the Council for National Security reportedly will “impose” one of the 17 previous constitutions.

Religion became a controversial issue during the drafting process when some Buddhists including monks demonstrated and held hunger strikes demanding that Buddhism be declared the state religion. But on June 29, the CDA rejected the proposal 66-9.

The constitution drafters, preferring to keep religion and state separate, instead opted to follow wording similar to that in previous constitutions.

According to the draft, “The King is a Buddhist but patron of all faiths.” Under Section 37, “a person shall enjoy complete freedom to embrace a religion, religious sect or creed. He or she is free to practise religious teachings or perform ceremony according to his or her belief, provided doing so does not breach civic duties, or disturb peace or good morals…”

Last Dec. 28, the stand-in government set up the Subcommittee for Christians of the Committee for Religion, Education, Arts and Culture to find ways to support Christian religious practices. Buddhists and Muslims have comparable subcommittees….

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