Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Should governments fund religious institutions?

I see that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has demanded an end to the Indian government's funding of madarsas (institutions where Muslim children are taught their religious basics - but institutions where religious extremism, it is alleged, is also sometimes inculcated).

The Indian government has become gradually less non-transparent over the years, but there is still a lot of non-transparency left.

It will certainly be very helpful to Indian voters to see the extent to which the Indian government subsidises not only Muslim religious institutions (which are the 2nd most numerous in the country) but also Hindu religious institutions (which are the most numerous). Also of course, the smaller or "minority" religious institutions run, in order of size, by Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others (as applicable).

Indian voters can then decide whether to continue, or to discontinue, subsidies to religious institutions.

Naturally, such a question applies not only to India. Similar questions can be asked in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and other Muslim countries, or Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries, and so on.

In the United States, a helpful distinction is drawn between (a) religious institutions themselves (such as churches) which are primarily for worship and religious instruction, and (b) the services provided by religious groups to society as a whole regardless of religious commitment or orientation - such as schools, universities, soup kitchens and so on which serve everyone.

The government does not fund the former, but is happy to support financially the latter in certain specified ways.

Naturally, there are vigorous debates and even court cases about where exactly to draw the line between (a) and (b), but the distinction is a good one to draw in principle.

Even more naturally, in a democratic country with a dominant religion (e.g. the USA with Christianity), there is no reason why the citizens of that country should not decide to fund the religious institutions (i.e. category (a)). But it is a mark of the political maturity of the USA that its citizens do not do so and choose only to fund categry (b).

Other countries, such as India, would do well to follow that distinction - even though I predict that it will be harder to maintain the distinction between (a) and (b) in countries such as India where corruption is widespread, and specifically where religious corruption is endemic. Sphere: Related Content

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