Opinion: Buddhist Ban on Alcohol Sales Has No Place in Secular Thai State

Shoppers crowd Makro’s Ram Intra branch to buy crates of alcohol on May 3, 2020.

Alittle inconvenience for drinkers occurred on Wednesday and Thursday this week in Thailand because they were Buddhist holidays. People simply cannot buy alcohol or consume it in public, legally at least.

It does not matter whether you are real Buddhist, superficial Buddhist, non-believers, atheist, or believers of other religion, expats or tourists – the ban is universal.

The raison d’être is straight forward but misguided, however. The state seeks to play a role of a good supporter and patron of Buddhism. On the surface this is seems a good thing – less alcohol drinking, less drunk people, less motor accidents, etc., etc., just for two days, or a few days per year.

Good intentions it may be, but it is problematic at different levels.


First, it is overbearing. We do not need a nanny state to tell us which day adults and foreign tourists can or cannot buy alcohol, can consume or not consume alcohol at pubs and bars. (And we are not even talking about the negative impact on the service and tourism industries, as well as possible corruptions induced by bribery paid by some establishment to authorities so they could continue to serve alcoholic drinks in innocent looking coffee mugs or teacups.)

Second, it is moralistic. Leave morality to religious leaders, philosophers, and some columnists. It is not the business of the state – particularly on issue like when one can drink or not drink in public. There are different sets of morality, and it is impossible to come up with one that would be satisfactory to all. It is thus best to let each adult make his or her decision.

Third, it implicitly shows a lack of respect for those of other religious and political belief because clearly a Buddhist belief is being imposed upon all, Thais and foreigners. Some asked whether why would not the government go the whole hog and push the policy all the way and banned alcohol from Thailand for good since one of the five Buddhist precepts is for believers to abstain from drinking alcohol and not just during Buddhist holidays.


Finally, the Thai state is officially a secular state and should in reality remain so. What the Thai state is imposing is inconsistent to this fundamental and important principle and opens the door for the mixing of state and (Buddhist) religious belief. Basically, the banning of alcohol sale and consumption in public for two days because it is Buddhist holidays in July is a blatant violation of Thais and non-Thais who do not believe in Buddhism and a proof of the lack of genuine separation between state and temple (Buddhism).

Thailand is a secular state and those who care about the separation of religion and state should voice concerns to the government and legislators that the issue is much bigger that a little inconveniences that supporters may argue.

It is this type of creeping subtle control by the state which eventually reduces citizens into unthinking population and obedient followers of the state and religion.