After the news on Tuesday that a Buddhist transwoman will become deputy prime minister in the new government, the highest position that any transperson has had in Europe ever, the new coalition agreement has now been made known and Buddhism will finally be recognized as a religion. It has taken the Buddhist Union of Belgium 14 years but now it has finally become a reality.
This means that Buddhist organisations in Belgium can now count of governmental support similar to the Church and can also teach in schools and prisons and provide hospice care.
I herewith want to congratulate Carlo Luyckx and all the other board members of the Buddhist Union for their unwavering dedication to making this happen in the last 14 years.
No, it is not. It is recognized in Italy, Austria, Hongary and Russia but not in all countries recognition also involves government support.
Now it will be possible to have Buddhist Chaplains who get a salary and who can give regular services and classes in schools, etc. Before this was not the case. I was for instance taught about Buddhism by a Benedictine monk, who knew very little about it and it was not very inspiring to me. It would be great if they can now introduce meditation in schools.
Welcome @Kykiliee. Great to see you here! I guess you should know about the situation in Germany?
Not exactly. It is the same system as Germany as far as I know but there is no “religious tax”. It is a percentage of income tax that goes as subsidies to the Church(es). The amount is determined by the number of members that are registered. The government does not deal with all individual churches or groups but per religion there is one central body who deals with the the funds, which in this case would be the Buddhist Union. There is a detailed agreement with the government on how funds are to be used and the requirements Buddhist organisations need to abide by. I don’t know much about the funds and how they are distributed because as a monastic I’m not particularly interested in that. But I can imagine that a large part will go to salaries of the newly appointed chaplains and that also the Buddhist Union will have to get some paid staff now. I also expect that some financial support could be available for groups if needed. For instance, there is one large Tibetan group that is one of the oldest and biggest in Europe and they own the one meditation and retreat facility in the country that all of us can use for retreats of more than 40 people. But they are struggling because their donations and rent are not sufficient to cover costs so they nearly went bankrupt a few years back. We used that hall for Bhante Sujato’s retreat last year. I can imagine that part of the funds would go to them because it is in the interest of all of us that this facility remains.
Most Buddhist organizations in Belgium are a member of the Buddhist Union already. They have certain criteria of who is allowed to become a member i.e. the organization has to contribute to the spread of the Dharma in some way. The decision making is democratic with representatives of all these organizations. Things the BUB does are for instance organizing the Buddhist response to Climate Change in Belgium, establishing a safeguarding network and ethical charter to prevent things like sexual haressment and discrimination within their member organizations and the training of councelors for this. This is a small country and most Buddhist organisations are very small. Therefore it makes sense to join together and help each other.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer. That’s really interesting. I realize that “religion tax” probably wasn’t the correct word. Do people register their religion as a part of doing their taxes?
The system in Germany, at least a long time ago was that, as in Australia, many social services are provided by organisations auspiced by a religion, eg Uniting Church, Catholic Services etc. I know that (a long time ago) that was at least part of where the funds went. A person was registered as belonging to a particular religious group and would be able to access the social services offered by that group. The difference in Australia is that all individuals pay income tax to the govt in a single lump sum, and then the govt ditributes it - there is no capacity to ‘disagregate’ an individuals tax according to the destination. There, one can see where different portions of tax are allocated, ie that to the religious organisations.
But there will be others who have up-to-date information with better details
I’m actually also not quite sure how it works but there is a certain percentage of income tax dedicated to religions in general and how that is divided has to do with the number of members of each religion. So the recognition of Buddhism also means that the Church and the Islam get less. How they actually know the number of members I don’t quite know. In the Church you are registered when you get baptised and you can only unregister by writing a letter to the Bishop. In Buddhism you have to become a member of a Buddhist organization that is registered with the BUB.
At least with us people do not have to be members to be able to come to meditation retreats or go to classes, even if those are given by a paid chaplain.
Just to clarify, the social services I was alluding to included things like child care, aged care, drug and alcohol services, counselling, housing and a wide variety other social services, rather than what would traditionally be thought of as ‘religious’ services. But I believe the system has been changing in more recent times…
I can say a word or two about the situation in Germany, and that may or may not be similar to that in Belgium.
In Germany, church tax is independent from other taxes paid to the state. Still the state collects the tax for the churches and transfers it to them. This is only for the Catholic and Protestant churches, and it goes back to an old law of 1803. Even other Christian communities like for example the Lutherians are not included, not to mention other religions like Judaism or Islam. Buddhism isn’t recognized as a religion in Germany at all.
You become a member of the Catholic or Protestant church by baptism, which (at least for Catholics; I can’t really tell for Protestants) usually happens as a baby, so you don’t really decide … But as an adult you are able to declare your resignation. At least for tax purposes—according to the religious belief a baptism can’t be made undone by any human because it is a holy sacrament.
In your tax declaration you have to declare which religion (in the sense of taxes) you belong to, i.e. either “Catholic” or “Protestant” or “none”—for tax purposes there are no other categories.
These social services are provided by so called “Wohlfahrtsorganisationen”, some of which are run by one of the (Catholic and Protestant) churches, but others aren’t. If you need such a service, your health insurance will cover part of it, and usually you also have to pay a part yourself. These organizations are rather commercial organizations nowadays. Instead of a private person, an organization run by one of the churches is holding the organization—which isn’t necessarily an advantage in every respect.
For example, there is discrimination about who is able to be employed. If you are not a member of one of the two churches you have no luck. If you are homosexual you might also nave not the best of luck … If you live with a partner without being married (not only by the state, but in a religious marriage by the church)—no luck.