Thursday, March 13, 2003

Sri Lanka: The Call for Anti-Conversion Legislation.

Date: Thursday 13 March 2003
Subj: Sri Lanka: The Call for Anti-Conversion Legislation.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator

The following posting is an update on the progression of anti-conversion legislation in Sri Lanka. This overview and update has been provided by the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka

- EK


Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka

The call to introduce anti-conversion laws in Sri Lanka has been around for several years, championed by the fundamentalist Buddhist groups. It is a direct reaction to the growth of the Evangelical Christian Church in this predominantly Buddhist land. However, successive Governments chose not to introduce such a Bill.

In November 2002, the Hindu Cultural Affairs Minister Mr. Maheshwaran, on his return from a visit to Tamil Nadu in India, made a public statement vowing to introduce a bill in Parliament curbing religious conversions. This was in the wake of the introduction of an anti-conversion bill in Tamil Nadu State, India. This is the first time that this call is being championed by a Cabinet Minister. The anti-Christian lobby, consisting of Buddhist, Hindu and some Catholic groups, endorse the Minister's stand.

Mr. Maheshwaran did in subsequent public speeches (reported in the Tamil language press) reiterate his intention of introducing the bill to Parliament in February 2003.There have been some public demonstrations both for and against the proposed legislation.

It is believed that the draft legislation will be modelled on the Tamil Nadu bill. Since the Government's official response to this situation has been silence, it is probable that it will be introduced in Parliament by Mr. Maheshwaran as an individual Member's bill. According to law, a bill tabled in Parliament has to be passed by the Parliament for it to have force of law.

We fear that it might attract wide support in Parliament both among the government members and the Opposition, including the vociferous Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MPs. In the event that it is voted in to effect by the Parliament, the only recourse is to challenge it in the Supreme Court. However, faith in the impartiality of the judiciary is low.

Tamil Nadu Anti-Conversion Bill.

The draft of the Sri Lanka Bill - we learn from reliable sources - is ready. It is modelled on the Tamil Nadu Ordinance. We have learned from reliable sources that that the definitions in Section 2 of the Tamil Nadu Ordinance remain the same in the Sri Lanka draft.

For example -

"allurement" - offer of any temptation in the form of a gift, gratification, either in cash or kind, or a grant of any material benefit (monetary or otherwise).

"convert" - to make one person to renounce one religion and adopt another religion.

"force" - include a show or force of a threat of injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social ex-communication:

The draft remains a secret document and we have no access to its full contents.