Religious freedom curbed in Sri Lanka

By January 30, 2009

Sri Lanka (MNN) — According to Compass Direct, a standing committee assigned to consider a draft "Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions" presented its report to Parliament on Jan. 6, suggesting minor amendments that clear the way for a final vote in February.

The provisions of the bill criminalize any act to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another religion by the use of force, fraud or allurement. Those found guilty of breaking the law could be imprisoned for up to seven years and/or fined up to 500,000 rupees ($4,425 USD).

Civil rights groups and Christian churches say it will infringe on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and will legitimize harassment of religious minorities.

Sri Lankan Christians have repeatedly expressed concern that key sections of the draft bill are open to wide and subjective interpretation that could criminalize not only legitimate religious activity but also legitimate social action by faith-based organizations or individuals.

"A lady who heads a charitable trust caring for orphans asked if she could be charged under this law, since she is a Christian and some of the children she cares for are not," a lawyer told Compass. "Many people will now think twice before helping the poor or needy, for fear of being accused of committing a criminal act."

Religious rights groups are asking you to pray that the bill would fail, or that the new legislation would not be enforced if it is passed.

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