Sri Lanka Parliament Holds Discussion on Anti-Conversion Bill

Sri Lanka’s parliament is discussing today one of two bills that will severely limit evangelism and conversion to the Christian faith

Sri Lanka’s parliament is discussing today one of two bills that, if passed, would justify discrimination against not only religious minorities, but also against the Buddhist majority.

The bill, which has drawn concern from both Protestant Christians as well as Catholic Christians, was struck down last year by the Supreme Court - which ruled two clauses of the bill as being unconstitutional. Today will be the bill's second reading.

“This law is a danger not only to Christians, but also to the Buddhist majority,” Monsignor Joseph Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy and President of the Sri Lankan Bishops’ Conference, told AsiaNews. “It is detrimental to the basic right of each citizen to freedom of conscience and religion, guaranteed by the state’s constitution.”

“By labeling as proselytism the Church’s social activity, such as orphanages and assistance to the poor, the measure strikes even the weakest parts of society,” he added.

Fernando, who is directly engaged in the campaign against a law, met with Pope Benedict XVI along with six other Sri Lankan bishops during a visit to Rome on Monday, May 2.

“Each one of us spoke to the Pontiff about this terrible law and he assured us his prayers and called on us to keep up our campaign in favor of religious freedom,” Fernando said.

According to AsiaNews, Protestant and Catholic Church leaders are working together alongside Muslim and Hindu figures in the campaign against the anti-conversion bill.

“We have also been in contact with Buddhist religious leaders,” Fernando added.

AsiaNews reports that the proposal put forward by the Bishops’ Conference, the National Christian Council and the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka is for the “creation of a national inter-religious forum charged with examining cases of forced conversion and bringing those responsible before the law.”

Fernando told the Italy-based news agency that he believes there is a good chance that the proposed law will not pass.

“The international community’s attention on the matter is strong and the government cannot afford to irritate certain foreign states, mainly Christian, on which the economy and humanitarian assistance depend,” the Bishop said.

International groups such as UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide have been lobbying hard to prevent the bill from becoming law, while groups such as the World Evangelical Alliance and the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have also expressed deep concern about the proposed anti-conversion law.