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Sri Lanka's Controversial Anti-Conversion Bill Fails

The Supreme Court ruled against the 'Prohibition of Forcible Conversions Religions Bill' after opposition by Christians
( [email protected] ) Aug 17, 2004 09:19 PM EDT

Sri Lanka's controversial anti-conversion bill can be made law only if it gets the support of two thirds of MPs in Parliament and is approved by the people at a referendum, according to the ruling on it by the Sri Lankan Supreme Court Tuesday, as reported by TamilNet News.

The ruling on the constitutionality of the “Prohibition of Forcible Conversions of Religions Bill” came after Christians launched a legal challenge to the bill that was tabled in the Sri Lankan Parliament on July 20. The bill, designed to ban religious conversions obtained by force or fraud, had received much opposition from the Christian community since it was first proposed in late May. Christians suggested that the bill was an attempt by the Buddhist party to suppress the growth of Christianity following the notable decline of Buddhism and the growth of Christian churches in rural areas.

However, as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Advocacy Director Tina Lambert had stated in July, “This is not simply a Christian issue. We want to work with people of other faiths, and of none, who may share a concern for religious liberty for all. If passed, these laws will be deeply damaging to Sri Lanka’s reputation.”

CSW expressed its concern over the bill, stating that "'forcible’ and ‘unethical’ conversions , if they take place, are of course wrong. However, impartial prosecutions in the midst of inter-religious tensions would be difficult to gurantee."

CSW, and Sri Lankan Christians alike, feared that the law would adversely affect the activities of many genuine religious groups, including those providing social and humanitarian services.

They argued that the bill would be in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Sri Lanka's constitution. They also contested that if the bill became law, Sri Lanka would break several international conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, Compass Direct reported. The ICCPR stipulates that no one should be subject to coercion, which would impair his freedom to have or adopt a religion of his own choice. Anti-conversion legislation itself could be seen as a form of coercion, they argued.

After counsels appearing for the petitioners in support of the bill and against the bill submitted their written submissions to the court for perusal, the court said that it would convey its determination on the constitutionality of the anti-conversion bill to the Indonesian President and the Speaker on August 12.

Though it was not released until today, for many, the court ruling was not just a victory for Christians, but also for other minority religions in Sri Lanka.

According to the most recent statistics, 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 19.9 million people are Buddhist, 15 percent are Hindu, 8 percent are Christian, and 7 percent are Muslim.