Who provided "Buddhism the Foremost Place" in Sri Lanka’s Constitution?

Original article: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=20467

Who provided "Buddhism the Foremost Place" in Sri Lanka’s Constitution?

March 12, 2011, 2:00 pm


By a special correspondent

Nearly seventy five percent of the country’s population is Buddhists while three other major world religions – Hinduism, Christianity and the Muslim religion – co-exist with Buddhism. Buddhism was the State religion during the time of the Sinhalese Kings but not from 1815 when the Kandyan Kingdom was ceded to the British. The first Constitution of independent Sri Lanka (1948) did not give Buddhism the foremost place as now provided.

Section 29 of the Soulbury Constitution of 1998 (said to be drafted by Sir Ivor Jennings, later Vice Chancellor of the country’s first University) had the following provisions on religion.

29. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Order, Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Island.

(2) No such law shall

(a) prohibit or restrict the free exercise of any religion; or

(b) make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable; or

(c) confer on persons of any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions; or

(d) alter the constitution of any religious body except with the consent of the governing of that body. Provided that, in any case where a religious body is incorporated by law, no such alteration shall be made except at the request of the governing authority of that body.

(3) Any law made in contravention of subsection (2) of this section shall, to the extent of such contravention, be void.

(4) In the exercise of its powers under this section, Parliament may amend or repeal any of the provisions of the Order, or any other of His Majesty in council in its application to the Island.

The 1948 Constitution remained in force until 1972 despite a major change in government in 1956 when Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike swept into office strongly supported by the Buddhist clergy.

At the well-attended launch of his text on Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law at the PIM on 15th February 2011 where the Guests of Honour were His Lordship the Chief Justice Hon. Asoka de Silva and the Chancellor of Sri Jayewardenepura University, Rev. Professor Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratne Thero, Dr. Weerasooria said that he had been told and he has so recorded in his text that it was then Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and not Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who gave "Buddhism the Foremost Place" in the 1972 Constitution.

Weerasooria said that the Principal Law officers of the State in 1972 were Mr. Victor Tennekoon the Attorney-General and Mr. Rajah Wanasundera Solicitor General. Mr. Wanasundera (later an Attorney General and Supreme Court Judge) had told him that it was Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike that had wanted a Constitutional provisions giving "Buddhism the Foremost Place" provided in the 1972 Constitution and that Dr. Colvin R de Silva had no option but to insert it.

Weerasooria added that Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was a good Marxist who also advocated two languages (Sinhala and Tamil) and said "two languages one nation, one language, two nations".

He also said that until the cession of the Kandyan Kingdom to the British in 1815, Buddhism was the State Religion and had been afforded the Foremost Place and the famous Kandyan Convention of 1815 had provided in its Article 5 that "the Buddhist religion shall be held inviolable" and that all that Mrs. Bandaranaike did in the 1972 Constitution was to incorporate that same recognition.

Mr. Wanasundera was also one of the Guests of Honour at this book launch and was on the podium when Dr. Weerasooria made these submissions to the audience.

In the above context, Dr Weerasooria’s text which was launched on 15th February 2011 states in it’s chapter 29 as follows :

How the "Foremost Place to Buddhism was put in 1972 Constitution

Interestingly, many people wonder why Dr. Colvin R. de Silva, an ardent Marxist, who was responsible for the first 1972 Republican Constitution provided the "Foremost Place" to Buddhism in its Sixth Article: See [29.3].This Article was followed in the 1978 Constitution. When writing this text, this author was reliably informed of the true background and so records it here.

It was done on the initiative of the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. When discussing the provisions for the 1972 Constitution with the State’s Principal Law officers, the Attorney General (Mr. Victor Tennekoon) and the Solicitor General (Mr. Rajah Wanasundera) the Premier, mindful of Article 5 of the Kandyan Convention, had requested the Law Officers to draft an appropriate clause and had then directed Dr Colvin R. de Silva to incorporate it in the new Constitution. He had no option but to do so. However, in his inimitable manner, he had quipped "she is thrusting the Kandyan Throne into our Constitution".