Sri Lanka’s conversion ban threatens Christianity
Sri Lanka’s Parliament is expected to pass the country’s first anti-conversion law. The proposed legislation, titled ‘Bill for Prohibition of Forcible Conversions’, was presented a second time to members of Parliament in January. It is expected to easily pass when it is again presented for acceptance.
The proposed anti-conversion law calls for penalties including fines up 500,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($4,425) and/or seven years in prison for anyone who tries to convert a Sri Lankan citizen from one religion to another by using force, fraud or allurement. The harshest punishments are reserved for those convicted of converting women or children.
The bill was drafted by the Jathika Hela Urumaya political party, whose leadership is comprised of Buddhist monks. A leader of that party has been quoted as saying that Christian missionaries are one of the greatest threats facing Sri Lanka.
Of the country’s 18.8 million residents, 71% is Buddhist. Another 12% is Hindu, and 8% is Muslim. Evangelical Christians comprise only about 1%.
Several observers believe that the legislation is in reaction to the decline in the number of Sri Lankans choosing to follow the Buddhist teaching. Buddhist leaders have expressed concern about the growth of Christianity, especially in the country’s rural areas. These Buddhist activists accuse Christians of offering jobs or money in order to get people to convert to Christianity.
Missionaries work throughout Sri Lanka. Christian activity includes a Bible college and radio broadcasting in two Sri Lankan languages. ‘Our missionaries only want to share the love of Christ with the people of Sri Lanka,’ said K. P. Yohannan, Gospel for Asia president. ‘They are not forcing anyone to change their faith. The reality is that those who choose to follow Christ know that they are opening themselves up to persecution and ridicule. It is not a decision these people make lightly’.