Proposed Legislation Against Unethical Religious Conversions in Sri Lanka

Palitha Mapatuna

The proposed legislation against unethical religious conversions in Sri Lanka is a result of several reports to the effect that certain Christian individuals and groups engage in converting to their religion followers of other religions, taking advantage of the latter’s vulnerabilities, such as poverty.

Sometimes attempts are made to justify these activities on the grounds that Christians have been commanded in their scriptures to propagate their belief. However, this alleged command applies only to those who believe in those scriptures and to believe them, or not, is a matter of personal choice. Therefore, any problems that arise from these beliefs, such as an obsessive need for converts, are solely problems arising from attachment to these beliefs. Others should not be called upon to pay the price!

Another attempt at justification is to argue that, as Buddhists propagate their religion in other countries, Christians should be allowed to do the same in Sri Lanka. However, the issue here is not of propagation, but the method of propagation. As far as I am aware, no improper methods are involved in the propagation of Buddhism.

The constitution of Sri Lanka provides the freedom of choice to every citizen with regard to the religion or belief he or she may have, or adopt. This does not leave room for citizen A to decide what religion, if any, citizen B should follow. That decision is the property of B. Therefore, any attempt on the part of A to convert B amounts to a misappropriation of the right of choice that is given, by the constitution, to B. It does not even appear that the constitution leaves room for B to legitimately renounce this right – say, in consideration of some material benefit. It confines this right to a free choice of religion and does not provide for bartering away that right.

Therefore, it appears that the only proper course of action – and which conforms to the provisions of the constitution – to propagate any religion is to make available opportunities to know it, so that, if there is anyone who wishes to learn it, he or she may take steps to do so. If this is accepted, it follows that the propagation of any religion by the use of threats, harassment, coercion, intrusion into rights of privacy of others, deception, misrepresentation, or material inducements, is unethical and, being contrary to the constitution, is also illegal.

As these unethical and illegal activities are reported to be taking place in Sri Lanka, the government is duty bound to introduce legislation to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens – and these include those who are destitute or otherwise vulnerable. However, the legislation needs to be drawn up carefully, with clear definitions, so that those who do not indulge in these unethical and illegal activities have nothing to fear.



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