Becket Fund Statement
Sri Lankan Government to Introduce Anti-Conversion Bill
The Sri Lankan government is poised to
introduce its own anti-conversion bill in parliament in the beginning
of April. With government support and calls for a conscience vote,
its passage would be all but assured. This is a dramatic development
and all efforts must be made to prevent this bills introduction.
The stakes are particularly high as the law will jeopardize all
religiously-affiliated tsunami relief aid now pouring into Sri Lanka.
Faith-based aid providers would be subject to up to seven years
in prison if accused of attempted conversion for aiding
the needy while retaining their religious identities.
Unfortunately, it appears that the many
assurances coming from the Sri Lankan embassy in the US for the
last few monthsstating that there is no government support
for an anti-conversion billwere mistaken at best and
misleading at worst. The Buddhist-monk controlled JHU party, introduced
a similar anti-conversion bill last year but hit a constitutional
roadblock because it included draconian reporting requirements of
all conversion related activity (the JHU only holds nine seats in
parliament compared to the governing coalitions 105). The
government bill (latest
known draft here), however, will likely avoid a similar fate
as it does not include the same constitutionally objectionable clauses
found in the defective JHU bill.
It bears repeating: the Sri Lanka Supreme
Court upheld the core anti-conversion clauses in the JHU bill and
will in all likelihood do the same with the government bill. In
fact, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court has held that the constitution
does not recognize a fundamental right to propagate a religion
and that the propagation and spreading of Christianity . .
. would impair the very existence of Buddhism. (See our Legal
Analysis page.) The government bill is not limited to the just
preventing Christian conversions, however, as it criminalizes conversion
to Sri Lanka's other large minority religions--namely Islam and
Hinduism--as well. By contrast conversions to Buddhism would likely
allowed under the law as Buddhism is guaranteed foremost place
by the Sri Lankan constitution.
In the coming days, The Becket Fund for
Religious Liberty will be actively cooperating with governments,
NGOs, and relevant agencies in Sri Lanka, the U.S. and the U.N.
in order to prevent a disastrous defeat for religious freedom in