Religious Freedom
Posted on August 5th, 2009

Palitha Mapatuna

Religious freedom requires that the onus of deciding whether a particular individual follows a religion and, if so, which religion, rests on that individual.  Therefore, any attempt to convert another would be an encroachment on that freedom.  However, an exception to this otherwise general principle is the right of parents (and, if unavailable, legal guardians) to guide the children under their care in matters of religion.

 On this basis, unethical conversions “”…” using threats, harassment, intrusion into rights of privacy, deception, material inducements (and any other low means) “”…” would clearly negate religious freedom. Religious freedom is already embodied in the Sri Lankan constitution, the basic law of the land.  It is reported that unethical conversions are still occurring in the country.  Therefore, it is entirely legitimate and necessary to legislate against unethical conversions and give practical effect to the provision in the constitution.  What purpose does embodiment of religious freedom in the constitution serve if it is not given effect to?  It is difficult to see how one could avoid this responsibility.

 As a self respecting nation, it is time to safeguard all its citizens from illegal activity.  In fact, in my view, all countries that are genuinely interested in religious freedom (and not in insincere pronouncements) should legislate against unethical conversions.

One Response to “Religious Freedom”

  1. cassandra Says:

    The Constitution states in Article 10 that ‘every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice’, in effect, that you can belong to the religion of your choice and can adopt a belief of your choice, in other words even to convert to another religion. Whatever else it might achieve, an anti conversion Bill will not serve to strengthen the freedom of religion provision in the Constitution. On the contrary, such a Bill could be said to impair the freedom there enshrined.

    The article states that ‘unethical conversions – using threats, harassment, intrusion into rights of privacy, deception, material inducements (and any other low means) – would clearly negate religious freedom’ I agree that unethical conversions are not acceptable. However, it is arguable if they in fact ‘negate religious freedom’. Of the alleged means employed in unethical conversions, the existing law more than provides for dealing with ‘threats, harassment, intrusion into rights of privacy, deception’. The only items that are not already covered in the law are ‘material inducements (and any other low means)’. ‘Any other low means’ is a broad and vague description, and what constitutes ‘material inducements’ is open to interpretation – and herein lies a major problem in trying to legislate against unethical conversions.

    Various religious groups, including both Christians and Buddhists, engage in works of charity and mercy, as part of their mission. And unless one is careful, there is the danger that even such virtuous acts – with no ulterior motives of making converts of the beneficiaries of such good works – could be construed as ‘material inducements’.

    The article states ‘It is reported that unethical conversions are still occurring in the country’. Are these reports based on facts? Do we have reliable statistics of religious conversions that have taken place over the last whatever period? Do we know how many of these can be classed as ‘unethical conversions’? Or are we simply going on anecdotal evidence? Now experience tells us that, anecdotal evidence is notoriously unreliable.

    I believe we need to take a calm, practical view of this matter of so called unethical conversions. Is there a real problem here or are we simply expending a great deal of time and energy on a virtual ‘non’issue’?

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