New constitution could threaten evangelism

By April 1, 2011

Nepal (MNN) — Provisions proposed for Nepal's new constitution pose a threat to religious freedom.

When the last standing Hindu monarchy in the world was overthrown in 2006, plans were made for Nepal to become a secular democracy. An interim constitution was enacted in 2007. The finished version was due for completion May 28, 2010, but more time was needed. Now the new constitution is set to be enacted on May 28, 2011.

This leaves little time for changes, which could mean trouble for evangelical believers. Open Doors, USA reports that the current draft constitution contains provisions "that prohibit anyone from converting others from one religion to another." So far, most political leaders have seemed unaware of the implications this could have for religious freedom, according to Compass Direct News.

Nepal's political leaders agree that forced conversions must be prohibited. After speaking with Compass Direct, however, several Nepali politicos admitted the constitution may need to be amended slightly to make a distinction between forced conversion and conversion in general.

"Perhaps, the words ‘force, inducement and coercion' should be inserted to prevent only unlawful conversions," Gagan Thapa, a leader of the Nepali Congress, told Compass.

Leaders are on board, but time is running out. Although many are skeptical that Nepal will be prepared to execute a new constitution by May 28, the date nonetheless remains the goal. The religious freedom concern is not the only issue with the draft constitution, either. Open Doors reports that at least 288 contentious issues arose out of the 11 committees condensing the preliminary drafts for the new laws, and the Constitution Committee has resolved 175 of them.

In the meantime, other questions have been brought up about the validity of such restrictive provisions for the constitution. Nepal signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1991, which included the right to manifest one's religion. U.N. officials have interpreted this to mean citizens have the right to evangelistic and missionary activity.

Such rights are violated across the globe. In nearby Pakistan, the blasphemy law is continuously abused to target and torture believers. In some Indian states, anti-conversion laws keep seekers in fear of professing their faith as well.

For now, it is up to the Constitutional Assembly to decide whether this provision violates religious freedom or not, a political leader told Compass. Compass also notes, "Religious conversion could become a contentious issue if the proposed restriction is removed. Even the notion of a secular state is not wholly accepted in the country."

Pray for the Lord's provision in this decision. Pray for guidance for the Assembly, and for safety for believers. Pray that the Gospel would continue to move forward at the hands of faithful Christians, regardless of any danger that may lie ahead.

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