The Becket Fund Concerned
That Religious Intolerance
Facts About American Aid:
Threatens Disaster Relief Efforts in South Asia
Facts About Relief Aid in Sri Lanka:
- Of the 67 American aid organizations
providing tsunami relief, 30 are religiously-affiliated, including
Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others. (Source: InterAction)
- These relief efforts are in jeopardy
as fear and religious persecution have survived the tsunamis
of South Asia. Global news outlets report that Muslim extremists
in Indonesia have directly threatened Christian humanitarian relief
organizations for helping Muslim orphans. Similarly, Hindus in
India have begun to tout their anti-conversion laws as a way to
counter the "insidious nature" of Christian relief groups.
- The greatest danger to relief efforts
may lie in predominantly Theravada Buddhist Sri Lanka which has
a history of anti-Christian violence, legal discrimination against
religiously-affiliated relief organizations, and suspicion of
- Sri Lanka is a country of almost 20
million people situated on an island just south of India about
the size of West Virginia. The population is approximately 70%
Theravada Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 7% Christian, 7% Muslim and has
been remarkably consistent for decades.
- Unlike the more familiar Mahayana and
Zen Buddhists, Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka claim that the
Buddha himself established Sri Lanka as a sanctuary for "pure"
Buddhism and that it is their ethnic duty to protect it from outside
- The U.S. State Department's 2004 International
Religious Freedom Report on Sri Lanka notes that "extremists"
have caused an "overall deterioration in religious freedom."
- Over the last two years anti-conversion
hysteria has resulted in over 160 violent attacks and church burnings
in Sri Lanka.
- In addition, in the last two years,
extremists Buddhists attacked foreign-funded, religiously-affiliated
NGOs, such as World Vision, accusing them of "bribing"
the poor to gain converts and undermining Sri Lanka's Buddhist
- In January 2003 the Sri Lanka Supreme
Court declared that religiously-affiliated organizations that
aid the needy (of other religions) violate the Constitution, stating
that "[T]he process of uplifting the socio-economic conditions
of the people of Sri Lanka, not restricted to persons who are
of the same religious belief or faith . . . would necessarily
result in an inconsistency with the free exercise of a person's
thought, conscience and religion." (Source: New Wine Harvest
- In July 2003 the Sri Lanka Supreme Court
ruled that "the propagation and spreading of Christianity
. . . would impair the very existence of Buddhism." (Source:
Sisters of Menzingen.) Shortly thereafter, both Catholic
and Protestant churches and Christian relief organizations, such
as World Vision, were attacked and firebombed.
- In April 2004 the situation worsened
after a group of nationalist Buddhist monks were elected to parliament
as the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) party. The JHU quickly introduced
an anti-conversion bill that would, in effect, criminalize all
attempts at religious conversion. Under the law, persons working
in religiously-affiliated relief organizations that offer "gifts
or material benefits" to disaster victims would be punished
by 5 to 7 years in prison and fined up to 15 months of income
- On November 19, 2004, the JHU introduced
a constitutional amendment to make Buddhism the official state
religion and prohibit "the spread of other forms of worship
among the Buddhist[s]." The government's response has been
- Also on November 19th, 31 members of
Congress submitted a letter to the President of Sri Lanka, expressing
concern over the anti-conversion proposals and reminding her that
Sri Lanka is a voluntary signatory to several international covenants
that uphold the freedom of religion.
- On January 11, 2005, JHU party leaders
voiced strong objections to the channeling of in tsunami aid through
the Christian relief NGO World Vision at a meeting of the national
committee on disaster management. According to press reports the
JHU claims that World Vision might use $11 million donated from
an international charity cricket-match for "illegal purposes."
The JHU, through a follow-up letter to the charity organizers,
accuses World Vision of alleged "unethical religious conversion"
efforts and demands that no charity money should be channeled
through the NGO. (Source: Indian Express, TamilNet).
For more information, full press reports,
and legal analysis please go to www.lankaliberty.org
(created by the Becket Fund after a fact finding trip to Sri Lanka).
The Becket Fund is an international, interfaith,
public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression
of all religious traditions. Please visit www.becketfund.org
to learn about our other domestic and international religious liberty
Selected Reports from the Global Press:
concern is the discovery of a leaflet at the Banda Aceh airport,
allegedly printed by a political party and discussing the adoption
of Acehnese orphans. The leaflet urges the Acehnese not to allow
adoptions by 'infidels (kafir), Christians or missionaries.'"
(The Jakarta Post, 1/08/05)
warned: "Christian-based humanitarian aid groups in Muslim-dominated
Aceh are a volatile presence that could threaten the uneasy peace
that has settled over the devastated Indonesian province."
(Aid groups warned against preaching, The Australian, 1/11/05)
of the radical Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Hilmy Bakar Almascaty
has warned Youth of the Streets to stick purely to humanitarian
work. [Catholic priest] Fr Riley said he would not back off from
his plans to work in the devastated area after seeing dozens of
orphans wandering aimlessly among the ruins [in Indonesia]."
(Australian Associated Press, 1/9/05)
- "JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya) also
joined JVP in raising questions about World Vision, a Christian
organization, receiving the relief aid. JHU leader, Ven. Ellawala
Madhanaada Thera, charged that the funds from the [charity] cricket
match might be used for illegal purposes. He said the task force
on tsunami relief setup by the government should further discuss
the issue. . . . In the meantime, JHU deputy leader, Ven. Omalpe
Sobhitha Thera, in a letter to Sri Lankan Cricket Association
asked why the aid from the cricket match is being channeled through
World Vision, which in the past has been accused of 'unethical
religious conversion.' In the letter he demanded an assurance
that World Vision would not use these funds to convert more people
into fundamentalist Christianity." (TamilNet, 1/11/05)
- "The issue of unethical conversions
to Christianity is snowballing in Sri Lanka, with the country's
leading Buddhist organization demanding the government ban all
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in anti-Buddhist
activities, and introduce an anti-conversion law by the month
end. Last week, a leading organization of Buddhist monks, National
Bhikkhu Front (NBF) staged a large demonstration in the capital,
Colombo, handing over a letter with the demand to President Chandrika
Warns NBF secretary Venerable Galewala Chandraloka Thera, "We
are prepared to take drastic steps if the government fails to
keep the February-end deadline. It is bound to protect Buddhism
by the provisions in the Constitution." Agrees the President
of another key Buddhist monks' organization, Jathika Bhikku Sammelanaya
(JBS), Venerable Ellawala Medananda Thera, who organized a fast
unto death campaign last month, "This is a joint demand from
Buddhists and Hindus to eliminate Christian fundamentalists whose
activities have caused the biggest damage to religious co-existence
here." (One World South Asia, 1/28/04)