A Buddhist Perspective on Freedom of Religion

Somseen Chanawangsa
Fellow of the Royal Institute, Academy of Arts


Freedom of religion and belief is treasured by many as one of the fundamental human rights demanded by its advocates, especially on behalf of minorities in any country where the great majority profess another religion or
belong to a different sect of the same religion. These groups are in a strong position when they are able to exercise their political power and utilize state authority through judicial or other mechanisms to suppress this freedom. Human rights as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international instruments should be welcomed as a necessary basis for further steps towards peace and happiness, but are still not sufficient for truly lasting world peace. To achieve this end, what is also needed in any society is a positive or constructive ethic that promotes, among other core values, loving kindness, compassion,
and charity. In this regard, Buddhism certainly has a lot of practical teachings to offer to the world. The Buddhist stance on freedom of religion and belief is discussed in some detail. Also addressed are the notion of religious fundamentalism, and the role of the media in the age of fundamentalism.

Key words: religion, freedom of religion and belief, human rights, Buddhism, negative ethic, positive ethic, religious fundamentalism, role of the media