| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
The Constitution provides for religious freedom in belief and practice. However, it restricts the activities of some religious organizations. There have been some reports of societal abuses based on religious affiliation, belief or practice. Violent conflict and killings between ethnic Thai Buddhist and Malay Muslims communities have been prevalent.
The country has a population of 66 million. According to the 2000 census, 94 percent of the population is Buddhist and 5 percent is Muslim. Other religious groups that account for less than 5 percent of the population include animist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, and Taoist populations.
Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in the nation. The Buddhist clergy (Sangha) make up two main schools: Mahanikaya and Dhammayuttika. Islam is the dominant religion in four of the five southernmost provinces. The Ministry of Interior’s Islamic Affairs Section said that there are 3,679 registered mosques in 67 of the country’s 76 provinces, of which 3,121 are found in the 14 southern provinces. It is recorded in the Religious Affairs Department (RAD) of the Ministry of Culture that 99 percent of these mosques are affiliated with the Sunni branch of Islam. The other 1 percent of mosques are Shi’a which are located in Bangkok and the provinces of Nakhon Sithammarat and Krabi. It is reported that there are a total of 39 Provincial Islamic Committee nationwide.
The 2000 census estimates that there are 438,000 Christians in the country, which make up 0.7 percent of the population. The government acknowledges five Christian organizations: the Catholic Mission of Bangkok (Roman Catholic); the Church of Christ in Thailand (Protestant); the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (Protestant); Saha Christchak (Baptist); and the Seventh-day Adventist Church of Thailand. A 2002 government survey acknowledged tribal groups “chao khao.” They have 920,000 believers where they practice a collection of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, and animism. The Secretary-General of Sikh Council of Thailand reports there are up 30,000 Sikhs. According to RAD statistics and local Hindu groups, there are an estimated 100,000 Hindus. There are more than 750 Chinese and Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist holy places and temples distributed throughout the country. The majority of ethnic Chinese and associates of the Mien hill tribe practice forms of Taoism and Protestantism.
There is no official state religion; however, Theravada Buddhism obtains considerable support from the government. The 2007 Constitution maintains the past obligations to maintain that the monarchy be Buddhist. It also declares an intention to "protect Buddhism as the religion observed by most Thais,” as well as to “promote a good understanding and harmony among the followers of all religions [and]… encourage the application of religious principles to create virtue and develop the quality of life." The 1962 Sangha Act (amended in 1992) is a law that forbids any form of insult towards Buddhism. Serious consequences could be carried out in violation of this law. The 1956 penal code sections 206 to 208 (last amended in 1976) forbids any form of insult or riot of religious holy places or services of all authorized religions.
There are five authorized religious groups: Buddhists, Muslims, Brahmin-Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians. Before any new religious group is to register, it must have at least 5,000 followers and be accepted by one of the five officially recognized religious groups. Also, new religions must have similar beliefs to one of the five groups. Since 1984, the government has not acknowledged any new religious groups. From 1991-94, several leaders of the Thai Unification Church were imprisoned for allegedly threatening national security. The church’s founders, Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon were still banned from entering the country as of 2007. However, there are active unregistered religious groups that receive no hindrance from the government. The government controls the number of foreign missionaries permitted to work in the country.
The government assigned $110 million (3.6 million baht) in 2010 to support the National Buddhism Bureau. The bureau supervises and manages Buddhist clergy and curriculums of Buddhist teachings for all Buddhist temples and institutions. Through RAD, in 2010 the government budgeted exactly $3.8 million (125 million baht) for Buddhist organizations; $1.1 million (35.6 million baht) for Islamic organizations; and $92,300 (3 million baht) for Christian, Brahmin-Hindu, and Sikh organizations. RAD assigned $327,000 (10.6 million baht) for the Religious Promotion Project in the southern border provinces. The budgets for Buddhists and Islamic groups incorporated funds to support its religious institutes, fund religious programs in both public and private schools, and supply daily allowances for monks and Muslim clerics. Additionally, it was used to renovate and repair old and damaged temples and mosques, the preservation of historic Buddhist spots, and the maintenance of the central mosque in Pattani. The National Buddhism Bureau allotted $12.4 million (403 million baht) for the protection of Buddhist temples and institutions. Other religious groups can appeal for government support and work but do not receive a regular budget. Private donations to other registered religious organizations were tax deductible.
In 2003 the Ministry of Education required religious education in public schools at both primary and secondary schools. A course called “Social, Religion, and Culture Studies” is taught in each grade for one to two hours each week. This course includes information about all acknowledged religions in the country. Further religious study is allowed for students that wish to transfer to religious schools. The Supreme Sangha Council and the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand have established special curriculums for Buddhist and Islamic studies. According to government statistics, there are 1,857 registered Islamic Religious and Moral Education centers teaching Tadika, an after-school religious course for children in grades one through six, in the five southern provinces.
There have been no reports of forced religious conversions or religious prisoners.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Thailand