Christian Aid and Assistance
Unwanted and Even Unlawful In Southeast Asia
Religious Persecution Survives Tsunamis
January 8, 2005
The death and devastation that now plagues
Southeast Asia in the aftermath of recent tsunamis demands immediate
attention by the global community. Aid and assistance to those who
have managed to survive this natural tragedy, by both religious
and nonreligious charitable organizations, is necessary without
question. But what is necessary is also criminal, or so extremists
in Sri Lanka, India, and elsewhere suggest. The current "debate"
in Sri Lanka, for example, is whether such assistance by Christian
missionary groups and the like is a crime carrying a five to seven
Two anti-conversion laws are currently
under review by Sri Lanka's Parliament. If passed, Christian organizations
dedicated to providing assistance -- whether spiritual or material
-- to those in need would be criminally prohibited from participating
in the relief effort. Drafted to promote and preserve Buddhism's
"foremost place" in this island nation, the laws criminalize
any effort that may influence another to convert, whether conversion
is the intended effect or not. Providing aid and assistance to the
poor, elderly, and devastated in times of crisis are examples of
what triggers the laws' application. Thus, Christian missions and
organizations in Sri Lanka willing and eager to provide food, clothing,
and shelter to those desperately in need would either face prosecution
and imprisonment or be forced to forgo the effort entirely.
But religious persecution survived the
tsunamis in other parts of Southeast Asia as well. Recent reports
suggest that Christian aid workers are at risk in Indonesia where
Muslim extremists suspect that humanitarian assistance is a pretext
for conversion efforts. Similarly, Hindus in India have begun to
tout their very own anti-conversion law that threatens the ongoing
aid efforts by Christian religious and humanitarian groups.
"The chilling effect of Sri Lanka's
proposed anti- conversion laws, India's law, and similar efforts
to criminalize Christianity in Southeast Asia will inevitably cut
off the very lifeline that sustains the growth and redevelopment
of the region," said Jared N. Leland, Esq., Media and Legal
Counsel for The Becket Fund. "Those in Southeast Asia need
now, more than ever, helping hands to put them back on their feet,"
Leland said, "and these laws and efforts, the fruits of religious
persecution, will do nothing more than push them back down."
About The Becket Fund
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is
an international, interfaith, public interest law firm dedicated
to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions.
Available For Further Comment
Jared N. Leland, Esq.
Media and Legal Counsel - The Becket Fund