Lurking danger in 19th Amendment to the special status of Buddhism enshrined in Article 9 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution -Proposals for consideration
Posted on April 19th, 2015

Senaka Weeraratna

The Supreme Court deleted the proposed Article 33 (1) in the 19th Amendment which states ‘that the President shall be the symbol of national unity’ in response to submissions made by lawyers that it was redundant because the national flag as set out in the Constitution already performed that role.

However the submissions made by other lawyers such as Mr. J. Chula Boange that the proposed Article 33 (2) (b) under the 19th Amendment that ‘ it was the duty of the President to ensure the preservation of religious and ethnic harmony’ was inconsistent with the pre- existing Article 9 of the Constitution which gives foremost place to Buddhism and imposes a mandatory duty on the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, did not draw any comment or response from the Supreme Court. 

 Article 9 says

 ” 9. 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, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e).

There is a latent possibility that the new Article 33 ( 2)( b) may lead to a submission to court by an imaginative lawyer that the duty imposed on the President to preserve religious and ethnic harmony qualifies and undermines the applicability of Article 9 which gives foremost place to Buddhism, because of the inconsistency that has arisen due to these two provisions.

It would be a disaster for the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, if the Supreme Court were to say one fine day in the light of such a submission that the Judges  hands are tied down to declare and uphold the true aims of Article 9 because they clash with the content of Article 33 ( 2)( b).

To reduce Article 9 to a state of paralysis in a convoluted way through the introduction of new provisions seemingly benign and non – threatening, but yet menacing to the existence of a basic feature and core of the Constitution i.e. special place given to Buddhism in line with historical tradition, is to court disaster and endanger peaceful relations between religious and ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. The special place given to Buddhism is a historical fact and part of the national architecture of the country.

In order to ensure that the President’s duties as laid down in Article 33 (2) are in step and consistent with the provisions of Article 9, I would like to propose that Article 33 (2) be amended to include the following new provisions:

It shall be the duty of the President to:

  1.  protect the Buddha Sasana, facilitate its preservation and foster Buddhism;
  2.  invoke the ‘ dasa raja dharma’ as deemed fit in governance;

These are ideals but nevertheless valuable to prevent any mis – interpretation and undermining of the scope of Article 9.

The reading of Article 9 together with the proposed Article 33 (2) carrying the amendments proposed aforesaid would neutralize any mischief, if intended, to downgrade the effect of Article 9.

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