Parts of Anti-Conversion Bill Ruled Unconstitutional
On August 17, Sri Lankas Supreme Court announced its ruling to the parliamentary speaker on the proposed Bill of Prohibition of Forcible Conversion. The court determined that Sections 3 and 4(b) of the proposed Bill violated Article 10 of the countrys constitution that guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of ones choice.
To become law in its present form, the bill would, thus, require a two-thirds majority vote of the parliament, as well as a national referendum. However, the court also added that if the offending Sections are deleted, the Bill will be consistent with Article 10 and would not require the two-thirds majority and referendum.
Section 3 of the proposed Bill required a person who is converting from one religion to another and any person performing or involved in a conversion ceremony to report to the Divisional Secretary of the area. Section 4(b) stipulated punishments of a fine and prison term for any person failing to comply with Section 3.
The court further recommended amendments to Sections 4(a) and 5 of the Bill relating to institution of proceedings against an accused. The Supreme Court recommended that action for offences against the Bill should be instituted in accordance with the provisions of Section 136 of the Criminal Procedure Code Act and subject to the written sanction of the Attorney-General. As written, the Bill allows categories of persons including any interested person to institute proceedings in a Magistrates court, without the sanction of the Attorney-General.
In the ruling, Sections 8(a) and 8(c) concerning the definition of allurement and force remain as they are, but the Supreme Court suggests the interpolation of the words for the purpose of converting a person from one religion to another to bring in the element of intentional temptation or force. Similarly, the definition of fraudulent means in Section 8(d) remains the same, but the court suggested that the words misrepresentation or other fraudulent means should read as willful misrepresentation or other fraudulent means.
In their analysis of the Supreme Courts ruling, The National Christian Evangelical Christian Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) expressed their continued concern about certain provisions of the Bill, including the extended means given to the definitions of the words allurement, force and fraudulent means under Section 8. For example, the word force is defined to include not only physical force and harm but also threat of religious displeasure. Additionally, NCEASL states that Section 2 is too wide in its scope, as it makes even an attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise... an offence.
According to parliamentary procedure, the bill will now go to a Parliamentary Standing Committee for discussion. It will then be sent to the Legal Draftsman for any amendments /re-drafting. This is followed by the second reading in Parliament and then the voting. The bill was introduced by the opposition National Heritage Party (JHU), a party composed entirely of Buddhist monks. The JHU may choose to accept the Supreme Court determination and proceed with a suitably amended version of the bill, in which case, it would require only a simple majority. This process could take several months. They may also choose to proceed with the bill in its present form, seeking a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament and a referendum of the people.
This proposed legislation is one of two anti-conversion bills being brought to the Sri Lankan parliament. The other was introduced to the cabinet by Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, the governments Minister of Buddha Sasana and may come before parliament. A copy of both proposed bills are available online at http://www.srilankanchristians.com/legislation.html.
Sources for The Voice of the Martyrs in Sri Lanka are continuing to monitor the situation and will give more details and the implications of this ruling as they become available. Continue to pray that members of Sri Lankas parliament will drop all attempts to restrict the religious freedom of its citizens. Pray that mob violence will not escalate and that Sri Lankan Christians will reflect the grace and peace of Jesus Christ no matter what the outcome. Especially pray for Sri Lankan church leaders during these days of concern and uncertainty.
Item provided by Voice of the Martyrs
From the news flow at Intercessors Network