What Should be the State Religion in Sri Lanka?

( The following document circulates among general public by a group of lawyers, as a supportive document to the debate on new constitution)

( March 9, 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Sri Lankan constitution does not cite a state religion. Nonetheless, rather ambiguously, Article 9 states that, “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”.

Nonetheless, in the famous judgment on Noise pollution, the Supreme Court held that Sri Lanka is a secular state:

“It has to be firmly borne in mind that Sri Lanka is a secular State. In terms of Article 3 of the Constitution, Sovereignty is in the People at common devoid of any divisions based on perceptions of race religion language and the like. Especially in the area of preserving the environment and the protection of public health, being of immediate concern in this case, there could be no exceptions to accommodate perceived religious propensities of one group or another. No religion advocates a practice that would cause harm to another or worse still as would cause pollution of the environment, a health hazard or a public nuisance being an annoyance to the public.”

In the said Judgment the Court also noted the secular approach of Sri Lankan Courts as well: ” We have had in this country probably the oldest jurisprudential tradition of a secular approach in dealing with matters that constitute a public nuisance”, quoting several related Sri Lankan and Indian Judgments.

In 2004, a constitutional amendment proposed by the Hela Urumaya to a clear reference to Buddhism as the state religion, was rejected by the Supreme Court.

It is extremely interesting to note that, the Soulbury Constitution of 1949 had a provision to the effect that the State was secular- and quite a comprehensive, far-thinking; and practical one which, if taken- over to the following two ‘supposed to be more-modern’ ones, would have spared, several lives; a considerable amount of heart-burn; and waste of resources on mere rhetoric:

“29. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Island.

(2) No such law shall –

(a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or

(b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or

(c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions, or

(d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing authority of that body, so, however, that in any case where a religious body is incorporated by law, no such alteration shall be made except at the request of the governing authority of that body:

Provided, however, that the preceding provisions of this subsection shall not apply to any law making provision for, relating to, or connected with, the election of Members of the House of Representatives, to represent persons registered as citizens of Ceylon under the Indian and Pakistani Residents (Citizenship) Act.

(3) Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void.”

Read the full report here; sri_lanka_constitutional_debate


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