In a decision that will pave the way for federal funding and dedicated school classes, Belgium is set to become the third nation in the European Union to recognize Buddhism as an official religion, after the federal government approved a bill on March 17.
The news comes 17 years after the Buddhist Union of Belgium asked the government for a first request for official recognition in March 2006. Belgium is now set to join Austria and Italy as the only other countries in the EU to make Buddhism a state-recognized spiritual tradition.
Buddhism was officially recognized by Austrian law in 1983. In 2007, the Italian Buddhist Union (Unione Buddhista Italiana), founded in 1985, signed an agreement with the Italian government, which became law in 2012.
The official recognition of Buddhism in Belgium as a non-denominational worldview comes after the Council of Ministers approved a bill drafted by Federal Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne. The approved bill must now be submitted to the Council of State and discussed in the consultation committee before being validated by parliament.
"They deserve this long-awaited recognition," Van Quickenborne said in a March 17 statement. (VRT News)
The Belgian-French Buddhist, explorer and author Alexandra David-Néel introduced the Maha Bodhi Society to the Congress of Freethinkers in Brussels as early as 1910. (Brosse) Between the two world wars, a group of people interested in Buddhism are said to have held meetings in Brussels. The first Buddhist centers in Belgium were created in the 1960s. The Buddhist Union of Belgium, founded in 1997, today represents the most active Buddhist organizations in the country. Currently, the union has 35 affiliated organisations.
According to 2019 data, 0,3% of Belgium's population of 11,6 million people identify as Buddhist. This compares to Christian traditions (60%), Islam (5%), Judaism (0,3%), other religions (4%) and no declared religious affiliation (31%) .
The Buddhist Union of Belgium has been designated as the representative of the Buddhist community in Belgium and the official interlocutor of the Belgian government.
“Buddhism now has some 150 followers in our country,” Van Quickenborne noted. “Over the past decades, this community has proven that it can structure itself in an orderly manner, both administratively and representatively, and make a positive contribution to our society. They deserve this recognition. (The Brussels Times)
Full federal recognition will allow Buddhism to be taught in public schools. It also entitles the Buddhist community to federal funding, as funding for worship services and non-denominational philosophies is enshrined in the Belgian constitution. This will allow the community to professionalize its organizational structure, pay the salaries and pensions of Buddhist consultants, delegates and chaplains, and fund a federal secretariat.
This decision will make Buddhism the eighth philosophy of life officially recognized in Belgium, after Roman Catholicism (in 1830), Judaism (1830), Anglicanism (1835), Protestant evangelicalism (1876), Islam (1974 ), orthodoxy (1985) and liberalism. -humanism (2002).