In this file photo dated Jul 25, 2017, people pray in front of a large statue of a Buddha in the 'biggest pagoda in Europe' in Evry, outside Paris, on Jul 25, 2017. (PHOTO / AFP)
BRUSSELS — Belgium is expected to officially recognize Buddhism after the federal government approves a draft law on Friday, opening the door to federal funding, official delegates and school classes.
The Belgian Buddhist Union had requested recognition in March 2006. The union estimates the number of Buddhists in Belgium at 150,000. The only other EU country where Buddhism is recognized is Austria.
There are currently six worship services officially recognized in Belgium: the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, the Israelite, the Anglican, the Protestant Evangelical and the Islamic, recognized in 1974.
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Buddhism would be recognized as "a non-denominational philosophical organization" alongside organized secularism, recognized since 2002. It would receive federal funding of up to 1.2 million euros.
Once voted by the Parliament, the law will pave the way to the creation of local institutions, to the sending of Buddhist delegates in ports and airports, in prisons, in the army, hospitals, the opening of Buddhism courses in official education alongside teaching of the other worships services.
All Belgian provinces and the Brussels Region would then also have to each finance a local Buddhist centre.