Law of Ishtar and West-Afrodite

The Confederation of Ishtar and West-Afrodite has a legal system with certain remarkable features and is quite unique among spacer nations. Its constitution establish (Theravada) Buddhism as the official state religion and states that the “Five Precepts” are the foundation of national law (article 1 of the Constitution). Further article 2 of the Constitution establish the “Ten Duties of Government”, which are derived from Buddhist scripture. In practice article 2 is a major cause of litigation against the state.

The Five Precepts are (summarized):

  1. Not to kill humans and animals;
  2. Not to steal;
  3. Not to commit sexual misconduct;
  4. Not to tell untruths;
  5. Not to use narcotics.

One has to remind that these precepts are not meant as inflexible and absolute norms, but rather as moral rules of thumb. Nevertheless article 1 mandates the Imperial Government to frame its legislation around these precepts. But this creates several challenges.

The first two precepts are most straightforwardly to apply by outlawing murder and theft, and no serious debate exist about them. The third one has issues surrounding on the question what constitutes “sexual misconduct”, though this generally understood as rape, child sexual abuse and bestiality and related offences. More problematic are the last two precepts.

A general law against lying is hard to enforce. Nevertheless the government of Ishtar and West-Afrodite uses this precept as justification for its laws against fraud, misleading advertisements and the yellow press. Further the state argues that these laws do not conflict with the freedom of speech, since there is a fundamental difference between “opinions” and “lies”.

Due to the fifth precept Ishtar and West-Afrodite has very strict laws regarding alcohol and drugs. Though these are not prohibited outright (as prohibition is unlikely to work), the production and trade thereof is subject to close government oversight. Further the department of education spends much money in drug education in schools. Needless to say advertising for alcohol and tobacco is illegal.

Public law centers on the “Ten Duties of Government”:

  1. Generosity and charity;
  2. Observation of the five precepts;
  3. Sacrifice for the public good;
  4. Honesty and integrity;
  5. Kindness and gentleness;
  6. Austerity in habits;
  7. Freedom from hatred;
  8. Non-violence;
  9. Patience;
  10. Non-opposition.

One has to keep in mind that the above list, was originally phrased as the “Ten Duties of the King” and hence more concerned with the personal traits of the ruler, than with abstract principles of modern bureaucracy. However, member of the civil service are selected and judged upon their observance of these ten duties – in the believe that high character of civil servants would improve overall quality of government.

Nevertheless, some of these duties are directly applied to public policy. For instance point six is understood as prohibiting frivolous public spending and point ten is considered as the foundation of democratic rule in the country. Also excessive taxation is assumed to be unconstitutional, as the Buddha denounced as such taxes as oppression of the people. Even the governments is not allowed to take what is not its own, and this is the cause of much litigation against the state.

Raising public revenue in a way consistent with Buddhist teaching remains a significant challenge for the Imperial Government.

Though the country’s civil code apparently follows the Napoleonic model, it’s however a unique synthesis of Napoleonism and Buddhist thought. The Sigala-Sutta is the foundation of the civil code of Ishtar and West-Afrodite. This text describes the following six inter-human relations:

  1. Parents and their children;
  2. Teachers and pupils;
  3. Marriage;
  4. Friends, relatives and neighbors;
  5. Masters and servants;
  6. Clergy and lay people.

Points 1 and 3 are the foundation of the country’s family law, point 5 is the core of its labour law and point 4 shapes its law of neighbours (Dutch: burenrecht).The defining feature of the civil code is its focus on reciprocal duties. For instance the children have certain duties towards their parent, who in their turn have similar duties toward their children.

The commentator and author of the code has stated that parents who neglect their duties as parents, forfeit their right be looked after by their children. And also children who willfully neglect their elderly parents, forfeit their rights of inheritance. In a similar vain the duties of husband and wife are discussed and neglect of marital duties are considered a valid ground of (unilateral) divorce.

Even though the civil code has its roots in Buddhist scripture, marriage as such is a purely secular affair. No religious ceremony is required to create a valid marriage. In fact it is sufficient for the law if two persons consider themselves to be “husband and wife”, since according to the commentator the duties of spouses equally apply to unmarried couples.

An interesting consequence of applying the Sigala-Sutta as source of law, is that this remark of the Buddha about gamblers:

… his word has no weight in a court of law…

is quite literally construed as a prohibition of known gamblers to testify in court. This interpretation is controversial among scholars. From the context of the quote, as argued by some, it’s clear that the Buddha makes am empirical interference rather than a normative ruling. Anyway, the entire passage is used by the Imperial Government to outlaw gambling.

No discussion of Ishtar and West-Afrodite law can be complete without mentioning the Monastery Act. This law incorporates the entire Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali canon into the legal system. The Vinaya is the set of rules, laid down by the Buddha, which governs the life of monks and nuns and is similar to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.

Both the constitution and the Monastery Act provides for special courts to enforce the Patimokkha, the core of the Vinaya. These courts consist of senior monks or nuns with legal experience supplemented by lay lawyers. Important to note, is that only monks and nuns can be prosecuted by these courts.

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