Although Thailand guarantees freedom of religion, and many religions are represented in the country, 95 percent of the population is Theravada Buddhist. Muslims compose about 4 percent of the population. There is also a small number of Christians in Thailand.
The new Constitution, which became effective on August 24, 2007, provides for freedom of religion, and other laws and policies contributed to the generally free practice of religion. The 2007 Constitution states that discrimination against a person on the grounds of "a difference in religious belief" shall not be permitted.
There is no state religion; however, Theravada Buddhism receives significant government support, and the 2007 Constitution retains the previous requirement that the monarch be Buddhist. The 2007 Constitution provides for a large measure of freedom of speech; however, laws prohibiting speech likely to insult Buddhism remain in place. The 1962 Sangha Act specifically prohibits the defamation or insult of Buddhism and the Buddhist clergy. Violators of the law could face up to one year imprisonment or fines of up to $645 (20,000 baht). The 1956 Penal Code, last amended in 1976, prohibits the insult or disturbance of religious places or services of all officially recognized religions. Penalties range from imprisonment of 1 to 7 years or a fine of $64 to $452 (2,000 to 14,000 baht).
There are five officially recognized religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Catholics. The RAD, which is located in the Ministry of Culture, registers religious groups. Under the provisions of the Religious Organizations Act, the RAD recognizes a new religious group if a national census shows that it has at least 5,000 adherents, has a uniquely recognizable theology, and is not politically active. A religious organization must also be accepted into at least one of the five existing recognized religious groups before the RAD will grant registration. Generally, the Government required that new groups receive acceptance from existing groups with similar belief systems. Four Protestant groups are recognized as subgroups of the Catholics. Government registration confers some benefits, including access to state subsidies, tax-exempt status, and preferential allocation of resident visas for organization officials. However, since 1984 the Government has not recognized any new religious groups. In practice unregistered religious groups operated freely, and the Government's practice of not recognizing any new religious groups did not restrict their activities.
The 2007 Constitution retains the past requirement that the Government "patronize and protect Buddhism and other religions." In accordance with this, the Government subsidizes activities of the three largest religious communities: Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The Government allocated approximately $102 million (3.3 billion baht) during fiscal year 2007 to support the National Buddhism Bureau, which was established in 2002 as an independent state agency. The Bureau oversees the Buddhist clergy and approved the curricula of Buddhist teachings for all Buddhist temples of educational institutions. In addition, sponsors educational and public relations materials on Buddhism as it relates to daily life. For fiscal year 2007 the Government, through the RAD, budgeted $1.5 million (49.1 million baht) for Islamic organizations and $149,000 (4.8 million baht) for Christian, Brahman-Hindu, and Sikh
The budgets for Buddhist and Islamic organizations included funds to support Buddhist and Islamic institutes of higher education, fund religious education programs in public and private schools, provide daily allowances for monks and Muslim clerics who hold administrative and senior ecclesiastical posts, and subsidize travel and health care for monks and Muslim clerics. Also included is an annual budget for the renovation and repair of temples and mosques, the maintenance of historic Buddhist sites, and the daily upkeep of the central mosque in Pattani. Private donations to registered religious organizations are tax deductible.
Religious groups proselytized freely. Monks working as Buddhist missionaries (dhammaduta) have been active since the end of World War II, particularly in border areas among the country's tribal populations.
The Government observes Maka Bucha Day (the full moon day of the third lunar month, typically in February), Visakha Bucha Day (the full moon day of the sixth lunar month, typically in May), Asalaha Bucha Day (the full moon day of the eighth lunar month, typically in July), and Buddhist Lent as national holidays.
Religious education is required in public schools at both the primary and secondary education levels. In 2003 the Ministry of Education formulated a course called "Social, Religion, and Culture Studies," which students in each grade study for 1 to 2 hours each week. The course contains information about all of the recognized religions in the country. Students who wish to pursue in-depth studies of a particular religion may study at the religious schools and can transfer credits to the public school. Individual schools, working in conjunction with their local administrative boards, are authorized to arrange additional religious studies courses. The Supreme Sangha Council and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand have created special curriculums for Buddhist and Islamic studies.
There are a variety of Islamic education opportunities for children. Tadika is an after-school religious course for children in grades one through six, which often takes place in a mosque. The RAD is responsible for overseeing the program, except for in the five southern provinces of Songkhla, Satun, Narathiwat, Yala, and Pattani, where the courses are supervised by the Ministry of Education.
For secondary school children, the Ministry of Education allows two separate curriculums for private Islamic studies schools. The first curriculum teaches both Islamic religious courses and traditional state education coursework.Â The Government recognizes these private schools, and graduating students can continue to higher education within the country. The second type teaches only Islamic religious courses. The Government registers but does not certify these schools, and students from these schools cannot continue to any higher education within the country.
Traditional private Islamic day schools (pondoks), located primarily in the south, offer a third type of Islamic education.Â Registered pondoks receive government funding based on the number of enrolled students. A clause retained in the 2007 Constitution requires the Government to "promote good understanding and harmony among followers of all religions." In accordance with this, the Government actively sponsored interfaith dialogue through regular meetings and public education programs. The RAD is responsible for carrying out and overseeing many of these efforts. The RAD has a religious interfaith subcommittee that is comprised of representatives from all religious groups in the country and RAD officials and convenes every 3 months. The RAD sponsored a radio and newsletter public relations campaign promoting interreligious understanding and harmony. In February 2007, the 17-member Subcommittee on Religious Relations, located within the Prime Minister's National Identity Promotion Office, reorganized to become the 29-member Subcommittee of Moral and Religious Promotion. The subcommittee coordinated and worked with religious organizations, community leaders, youth networks, and the Government on how these groups might better apply religious principles and practices into their organizations. The subcommittee is composed of representatives from the Buddhist, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, and Sikh communities in addition to civil servants from several government agencies.