Bill on unethical religious conversions refered to Parliament Standing Committee

SinhalaNet, 7 May, 2005

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Parliament yesterday agreed to refer the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) "Bill to ban forced conversions to other religions" to a Parliament Standing Committee for consideration.

This Bill presented by the JHU MP Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera as a private member's Bill was challenged in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined that only one clause was consistent with the constitution, but not other clauses. Therefore, two thirds majority or amendments were required for the parliament approval.

JHU MP Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera yesterday presented the Bill for the second reading and made a statement in House. Later the Speaker asked parliament approval to refer this to a standing committee, which would discuss the two amendments or decide to obtain two thirds approvals.

Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera said that contrary to popular myth, the Bill will prevent fundamentalists from violating human rights, and added that it will not violate human rights. "This Bill intends to protect people's freedom of thought and freedom to practise the alternate religion they please," he said. Commenting on the freedom of thought enshrined in the Article 10 of the constitution, the Thera said that if any person forces or induces the freedom of thought of another, it amounts to violation of the constitution.

"There were three private member' Bills presented to establish Christian missionary institutions, and were challenged in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined that if a person is converted, promising various material benefits, it could violate the article. The European court also gave a similar verdict to the Kokinake's case in Greece. Therefore, there is a world acceptance that freedom of thought is violated during religious conversion if it was influenced by threat or inducements," he said.

However, the Ven. Thera said that JHU was not against a person converting to another religion, upon understanding the faith. "We are not against propagation of religion. If one understands and accepts the Christian faith, and then coverts from Buddhism to Christianity, we are not against it. But we are against conversions using force, threat, coercion and inducements. These methods are used by fundamentalists in this country. These methods will be banned by this Bill," he said. "There are proven case reports in the Sinhala and Buddhist Commission of force, threat and inducements used to convert," he said.

He reminded the House that not only Buddhists, but Catholics and Hindus were also at risk from fundamentalist elements. "The Catholic Bishops have accepted that unethical Christianisation occurs in the country.
In 2003 December 19 they issued a press release stating that they have no connection with the fundamentalists and accepted that because of the fundamentalists, religious harmony was at risk of deteriorating," he said.

"Bishop Malcom Ranjith said that Catholics were falling victim to these as well," he said. "Though the Catholic Church is aware of unethical conversions, it is against taking action against these unethical things. It is similar to accepting that there is a disease accepting that the patient is terminal, but refusing to treat the patient. But we assure that this Bill will not violate human rights. It is in full conformity to international conventions," he said. After the Thera's statement, Chief Government Whip Jeyeraj Fernandopulle (Well known Christian Minister) asked the Thera to inform the House of the proposed amendments, as the Supreme Court had determined some clauses to be inconsistent with the constitution.

However, MEP Leader Dinesh Gunewardene said that any amendments could be discussed at the Standing Committee, and not in the Chamber.

Then the Speaker sought approval to refer the Bill to the Committee which was granted.