13A and separation of Temple from State

13A and separation of Temple from State
13A and separation of Temple from State

13+The sacred constitutional principle of the separation between the Church and the State (or the Temple and the State to that effect) refers to the distance in the relationship between the State and the organized religion. The wall of separation between the Church and the State, as Thomas Jefferson called it, evolved after centuries of temporal intervention into the affairs of the State and vice versa in Ancient Greece, Medieval Europe and pre-revolutionary France. Such a relationship resulted in the Church wielding enormous power over the State and indulging in the persecution of ‘infidels.’
After the Reformation, Renaissance and a spree of revolutions, Western Europe and the United States struck a demarcation between the Church and the State, thereby limiting the influence of organized religion in the affairs of the State. The religion was meant to exist on its own merits within its own confines. Soviet Union, its satellite states and China which emerged as communist States in the 20th century went a step further, seriously limiting religious freedom, shutting down churches and herding the clergy to rehabilitation camps.
Even in England, which recognizes the Church of England as the official religion, enlightened former Archbishop Rowan Williams recently joined a national debate to caution Prime Minister David Cameron over his remarks that the ‘UK is a Christian country.’ Bishop Williams called Britain a ‘post-Christian’ country.
When a host of Asian and African countries became independent after the dissolution of the British Empire, the founding fathers of some of those nations adopted the separation of power as a founding constitutional principle in their new nations. One striking example is India, where secularism is enshrined in the Constitution.
Whereas, the Constitution of the newly independent Sri Lanka gave Buddhism the foremost place, thereby elevating it to the official religion of the State.
Accordingly, it became the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring all religions their rights.
However, independent Sri Lanka saw the efforts by the religion to meddle with the affairs of State. The historic role of the monks as the advisers of the ancient kings, who on their part served as the benefactors of the Buddha Sasana, has been cited to justify the meddling in the State by the religion. However, over the 2500 years, the world has evolved to be a more cosmopolitan, liberal and accepting place – barring a couple of Muslim States where life is an eternal servitude to fundamentalist Islam.
Modern States have built and nurtured secular universities and even those which began as bastions of religious teaching have evolved to be secular institutions of academic excellence and their students and academics have falsified a long list of religious dogma in accepting the theory of evolution.
Modern nation States do not have a role for religion in the affairs of the State. Nor does the State have a role in the affairs of the religion.
It is important that both the State and the religion operate within their own confines. However, in countries such as Sri Lanka, the temptation of the clergy to intervene in the affairs of the government and the penchant of politicians to whip up religious sentiments, in order to advance their political objectives, remain a major handicap in the nation building process.
Our lead story on Friday quoted a spokesperson of the Malwatte Chapter as calling for the abrogation of the 13th Amendment, ” without succumbing to the pressure exerted by India.”
In the first place, that is a dangerous advice, which may vindicate the very rationale of the separation between the Church and the State.
Constitution amendments could not be annulled at the whims and fancies of the clergy, who, in most cases, are remotely aware of the intricacies of constitutionalism. Those intricacies are further compounded by the fact that the 13th Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution of Sri Lanka as part of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, which is a bilateral agreement which Sri Lanka cannot annul unilaterally, without inviting repercussions.
The challenge before Sri Lanka is to look beyond the religious and racial identities to become a cosmopolitan country, which allows its myriad of ethnic and religious communities to live in equality and dignity.