The Sri Lankan parliament will soon vote
on bills that would silence religious expression and effectively
outlaw all religious conversions in the country.
The first proposed law is a private
member's bill (PDF format) introduced by a member of Jathika
Hela Urumaya, an opposition party of Buddhist monks.
The Sri Lanka government then proposed
own bill (PDF format). Introduced by a cabinet minister, it
has the government's imprimatur. It was presented to the cabinet
in February 2005 and has been approved. The government has announced
its intention to introduce it in Parliament in April 2005. It replaces
the previous draft (PDF format) of
the cabinet bill of June 2004 by modifying some potentially unconstitional
Although the current Sri Lankan constitution
gives preference to Buddhism as the "foremost religion,"
it stops short of establishing it as the state religion. Believing
that this designation does not go far enough in reflecting the important
role Buddhism has had in the island's history and concerned by the
possibility that other religions may attract converts away from
Buddhism, the JHU has sought to make Buddhism the state religion
by proposing an amendment to the constitution
(PDF format). Though the proposed amendment purports to allow for
the continued free exercise of any religion, it stipulates that
non-Buddhists must practice their religions "in peace and harmony"
with Buddhism. Currently, 70% of Sri Lankans practice Buddhism,
while 15% practice Hinduism, 8% Christianity, and 7% Islam.
The International Religious
Freedom Act was passed by the United States Congress in 1998.
The act "authorize[s] United States actions in response to
violations of religious freedom in foreign countries." Read
our introduction to IRFA.
Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations
in 1948. Article 18 states: "Everyone has the right to freedom
of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom
to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to manifest his
religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Convenant on Civil and Political Rights was adopted by the United
Nations in 1966, and entered into force in 1976. Its Article 18
is very similar to that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience
and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt
a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually
or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest
his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."