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On August 17, Sri Lanka's 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 country's constitution that "guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of one's 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 Magistrate's 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 Court's 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 government's 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 Lanka's 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.

 

Padukka Church - Destroyed 2002

The feature article of October issue of The Voice of the Martyrs' newsletter will focus on the plight of Sri Lanka's Christians today. The Voice of the Martyrs will also be releasing a new 30-minute documentary video in October entitled "Faith Under Fire: Sri Lanka." Subscribe today (click here) to keep up-to-date on this and other developments with the Persecuted Church around the world (available only in Canada).

For more information on the challenges facing Christians in Sri Lanka, click here.

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VOMC supports persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka as they witness for Christ in hostile environments through Biblical training, legal aid, and advocacy, as well as rehabilitation and emergency assistance.

Project Funds: Relief and Development, Legal Defense

Country Information

Population
22,576,592 (July 2018 est.)

Ethnicity (%)
Sinhalese (74.9), Sri Lankan Tamil (11.2), Sri Lankan Moors (9.2), Indian Tamil (4.2), other (0.5)

Religion (%)
Buddhism (70.2), Hinduism (12.6), Islam (9.7), Roman Catholic (6.1), Evangelical Christianity (2.0)

Leader
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Government type
Presidential republic

Legal system
Mixed legal system of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and Jaffna Tamil customary law

Source: CIA World Factbook

Pray for Sri Lanka

Let's unite our hearts in prayer for those in Sri Lanka who are being persecuted for their faith, thanking God for what He is accomplishing despite the opposition. Ask that His people will be encouraged, strengthened and equipped by the promises of the Bible – the Sword of the Spirit – knowing that He is watching over His Word to perform it (Ephesians 6:17; Jeremiah 1:12). May they not only overcome the strategies of the enemy, but also serve as effective witnesses to those in need of eternal salvation and deliverance from spiritual captivity.

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