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Does Thailand have freedom of religion

Does Thailand have freedom of religion?

In Thailand, the main religions are Buddhism and Islam. In the last 200 years, it has seen the birth and death of religions such as Protestantism and Catholicism. 

But despite this diversity, does Thailand really have freedom of religion? Does its constitution allow Thais to practice and observe any religion they want even if they are still young?

Keep reading to learn more as we explore Thailand’s position on religious freedom.

Does Thailand have freedom of religion?

Does Thailand have freedom of religion

Image source: ASEAN Today

Thailand’s Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and belief. Everyone is entitled to equal legal protection regardless of their religious beliefs, and they are free to openly profess, observe, or practice any religion they choose, so long as doing so does not “harm the security of the State.”

Governmental Respect for Freedom of Religion

Governmental Respect for Freedom of Religion

Image source: CNA

The state is given the authority by the constitution to support and defend Buddhism and other religions. However, it also urges the promotion of Theravada Buddhism, specifically through education and outreach.

In Thailand, the constitution states that all individuals are equal before the law regardless of their religious beliefs. 

Accordingly, everyone has the freedom to profess, observe, or practice any religion of their choice, so long as it does not harm the security of the State.

The Thailand Government only recognizes the following five religions: 

  • Buddhism
  • Islam
  • Brahmin-Hinduism
  • Sikhism
  • Christianity 

Its constitution also states that The King must be a Buddhist, and the constitution declares him to be the “upholder of religions,” even though there is no official state religion.

Religious groups affiliated with one of the five officially known religions are qualified to register themselves in order to take advantage of state benefits.

Such benefits include access to subsidies, exemption from income and property taxes, and priority in obtaining resident visas for the registered group’s foreign officials.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Persons

Despite the Thai government’s stance on religious freedom, there are several restrictions that apply to religious persons.

For instance, Buddhist priests, novices, monks, and other clergy are not permitted by the constitution to cast ballots in elections, run for office in the House of Representatives or Senate, or express political opinions in the media. 

There were 239,023 clergy who were not allowed to vote or run for office as of August, according to the NBB. 

Christian clergy are not allowed to cast ballots in elections while wearing official religious attire.
Imams are not regarded as priests or members of the clergy, with the exception of the Chularatchamontri (Grand Mufti), and are therefore eligible to vote and hold political office.

What’s against the law regarding religious beliefs in Thailand?

What’s against the law regarding religious beliefs in Thailand

Image source: ChinaDaily

It is against the law to disparage or make fun of Buddhism, Buddhist clergy, or Buddhist institutions. Violations can result in penalties of up to 20,000 baht ($600), up to a year in jail, or both. 

The penal code forbids insulting or disrupting any officially recognized religious group’s places of worship or services. One to seven years in prison, a fine of 20,000 to 140,000 THB, or both are possible penalties.

Teaching Religion to Thai Youth

Teaching Religion to Thai Youth

Image source: ThaiBlogs

Religious education is required by law for all students in elementary school and high schools; students cannot choose not to participate. 

The five recognized umbrella religious groups must all be covered in the curriculum. However, Buddhism receives more time in the classroom than other religions. 

Students who want to study a particular religion in-depth can do so at private schools and transfer their credits to public institutions.

Religious Demography in Thailand

Religious Demography in Thailand

Image source: CNA

The U.S. government calculates that 69.5 million people live in Thailand (midyear 2021). The most recent population census from 2010 showed that 93% of people are Theravada Buddhists, and 5% are Muslims.

In addition, 85 to 95 percent of the population are Theravada Buddhists, and 5 to 10 percent are Muslims, according to NGOs, academics, and religious organizations. 

The remaining population comprises members of various other faiths, such as animists, Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and Taoists.

Islam is the predominant religion in three of the country’s four southernmost provinces (Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani), which are close to the Malaysian border.

Most Vietnamese and Chinese people practice Mahayana or Theravada Buddhism. 

Notably, Chinese people make up the majority of Christians and are also represented in the northern ethnic tribal groups. On the other hand, Roman Catholics comprise more than half of the Christian population.

FAQs about Freedom of Religion in Thailand

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