One of two bills that will severely limit evangelism and conversion to the Christian faith in Sri Lanka is due to go to its second reading this Friday before the Sri Lankan parliament, says a UK-based Christian human rights charity group.
The bill, proposed by the Buddhist nationalist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), was struck down last year by the Supreme Court - which ruled two clauses of the bill as being unconstitutional.
We are deeply concerned that the Governments anti-conversion bill is again before Parliament, stated Stuart Windsor, National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. This bill, if passed, would profoundly violate religious freedom in Sri Lanka.
The JHU bill, known as the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions of Religions Bill, if enacted, would require individuals who convert from one religion to another to inform the local authorities within a prescribed period. Those who fail to notify the authorities can be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to 150,000 Rupees ($1,500 USD).
According to CSW, the proposed law also states that: No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person aid or abet any such conversions.
Anyone who breaches this law would be subject to up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 150,000 Rupees. Should a minor, a woman, a physically or mentally disabled person, a prisoner, a student, a refugee or a hospital patient is converted by fraudulent means, the penalty is seven years imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 Rupees ($5,010 USD).
Meanwhile, CSW reports that a second bill proposed by the Government, called the Act for Religious Freedom, seems to have been postponed while the JHU bill is tested before Parliament.
According to CSW, the government bill has been approved by the Cabinet and stipulates that no person should unethically convert or attempt to unethically convert any other person espousing one religion to another religion, religious belief, religious persuasion or faith which such person does not hold or belong to.
While Buddhist groups have criticized the activities of a minority of evangelical Christians, accusing them of unethical and insensitive conduct, major Christian groups, including the Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Christian Council and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), have offered alternative means of addressing the concerns of Buddhist and Hindu groups in Sri Lanka.
NCEASL, CSWs partners in Sri Lanka, issued a statement reiterating their strong condemnation of any unscrupulous or unethical practices. However, the alliance also expressed deep concern and regret at the latest developments.
According to the NCEASL, the proposed bill would enforce limitations on religious freedom, legitimize violence and harassment of minority religious groups and further de-fragment our already divided society.
Windsor similarly said, We oppose unethical conversions and are sensitive to the concerns of Buddhists in Sri Lanka. We have listened to their views, but we would encourage the Government to work with the churches and the other religious groupings to explore non-legislative options as a way forward.
We urge Sri Lankan Parliamentarians to vote against this bill, and we will continue to campaign to that effect, the CSW Director added.
CSW, in partnership with the NCEASL, has been lobbying hard to prevent either bill from becoming law.