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2004

Statement by the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka On the proposed laws restricting conversions

Posted on [PUBL_DATE]
2004 >>

The Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka is aware of moves to introduce legislation regulating individual choice and religious freedom. We understand that a Bill titled ‘Prohibition of Forcible Conversion Bill’ was placed before the Parliament on the 21st of July 2004 and a draft Act titled ‘Act for the Protection of Religious Freedom’ which calls for a total ban on religious conversion was approved by the Cabinet.

The contents of the said Gazetted Bill and the draft Act violate the fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience and religion as enshrined in our Constitution. If enacted, these laws will enforce limitations on the freedom of religion of all religious groups, and legitimize harassment of minority religious groups which have peacefully co-existed in this land for generations. Furthermore, careful studies of these bills reveal ambiguous terminology and definitions, which will lead to arbitrary and subjective interpretation and enforcement of these laws.

We are of the opinion that this legislation will lead to a further de-fragmentation of our already divided society, by creating a climate of religious tension; which in turn will adversely affect the establishment peace and good governance in our land.

We have been given to understand that this legislation is a reaction to accusations of alleged “unethical conversions”. We strongly condemn and denounce any unethical practices and endorse the standards adopted by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that “no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.

We reiterate our firm commitment to building a society that ensures the rights and freedom of all citizens, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. However, it is our view that legislation will not resolve this issue, but will in fact defeat its purpose by birthing new and more complex problems. All religious traditions oblige their followers to perform good deeds and engage in acts of charity. We are of the opinion that censure of all such acts of charity on the assumption that they amount to ‘coercion’ goes beyond reason.

Furthermore, these laws infringe upon the rights granted to all persons under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; which instrument is ratified by Sri Lanka. Enacting legislation in breach of Sri Lanka’s international obligations towards the protection of human rights will tarnish our nation’s image and cause irreparable damage to the national economy.

Sri Lankans have over the centuries adopted all four major religions of the world; namely Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, none of which are indigenous to our land, but all of which have enriched and enhanced the cultural diversity of our people. All these religious traditions have hitherto enjoyed the freedom to propagate, teach and practice their beliefs unfettered by legal sanctions. This is indeed a tribute to our nation’s commitment to democracy. It is our view that the current attempt to control individual choice of adopting a religion through legislation, amounts to an invasion of personal freedom by the State and deviates from the norms of democratic governance.

We therefore object to the enactment of any laws restricting or prohibiting religious conversions. As citizens of Sri Lanka, we desire and deserve our rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and expression.

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