Friday, January 30, 2009

Sri Lankan Buddhists shift targets

Now that the Sri Lankan government seems on the verge of solving its "Tamil problem", the attention of Sinhalese nationalists seems to be turning back towards Christians and other religious minorities whose very presence defies their desire for a purely Buddhist and Sinhalese country.  At a press briefing on January  7, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, a Buddhist monk and Member of Parliament representing the Jathika Hela Urumaya party stated that those who voted for them in the 2004 general election expected the JHU to fulfill two goals.  “One," he said, "was to end unethical conversions and the other was to liberate the country from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That is why we entered politics.”  With the possibility of a general election being called in the spring, these promises have taken on an added urgency for the JHU. 

Accordingly, in early January, a draft anti-conversion bill was put before Sri Lanka’s parliament for an expected final vote in late February.  The bill states "No person shall, either directly or indirectly, forcibly convert or attempt to convert any person professing religion to another religion by use of force, by allurement, or by any fraudulent means." Anyone who violates this law will be liable for "imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and also be liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred and fifty thousand rupees" (the equivalent of about three years’ wages for the average person in Sri Lanka).

The problems with this bill are manifold.  The word "allurement" is so broadly defined that just about any kind of gift, assistance, or care given by a religious organization or person could result in a charge being laid. I can even see how prayers for the sick could be seen as "allurement" if the person was actually healed (I actually met a Sri Lankan pastor who was commanded by religious leaders in his community to stop praying for the sick for this very reason). The bill also does not clearly define what constitutes forced conversion.  In fact, it is rather obvious that the real purpose of this bill is to outlaw all religious conversions.

In an article in AsiaNews today, it was reported that most Sri Lankan Buddhists welcomed the anti-conversion bill. A young university student told AsiaNews that “this law is as necessary as the government’s destruction of the LTTE (Tamil Tigers rebels). We must rid ourselves of all those who convert (others), priests and pastors who destroy our Buddhist-Sinhalese culture. Christians are living in this land peacefully because of the great Buddhism. . . . Otherwise they would have washed out long ago.”

In the interview they also quoted a Buddhist monk who said that “there is no place for many religions, many ethnic groups or many cultures. This is the only purely Buddhist and Sinhalese country in the world.”

We urge you to write to both Canadian and Sri Lankan authorities, expressing your concern over the "Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion" bill. You can write to: (you can download a sample letter here)

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Lester B. Pearson Building
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ONK1A 0G2
Email -

H. E. Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
Presidential Secretariat,
Secretariat Building,
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
E-mail -

Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe
Leader of the Opposition
Office of the Opposition Leader
Cambridge Place,
Colombo 7
Sri Lanka
E-mail -

Boraluwewa_Apostolic_Church_graffiti_the_church_is_no_more_2004On the walls of destroyed church on the left, the graffiti reads, "the church is no more."  How little do Christ's persecutors realize how even the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church.  Yet the battle will not be won by force but by love, suffering and sacrifice. The feature article of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter will deal with the persecution facing Christians in Sri Lanka and their continuing faith and courage in the face of threats and violence.  Be sure to subscribe today to get your copy (yes, it's free).

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