Another Indian state bans religious conversions as missionary murder trial continues
Under a new law passed today, any of the 51 million people living in India's western state of Gujarat must obtain government permission before converting to another religion or they will face up to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 rupees ($20). Those "inducing" others to convert face up to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 rupees ($1,000).
"We will oppose this draconian law as it's against the spirit of India's constitution, which allows freedom to propagate and practice any religion," Samson Christian, a spokesman for the All India Christian Council, told Reuters. Christians only form about 0.5 percent of the state's population.
The passage of the bill was not without debate, reports India Express. Members of the Congress party tried to shout down the bill's supporters, and one representative "broke the microphone and hurled its pieces, which fell on the Speaker's podium," the newspaper reports. "Unruly scenes in the House forced the Speaker to suspend all Congress legislators for remainder of the day."
The Global Council of Indian Christians also strongly opposed the bill, saying it has the "potential for chaos," and will make things worse for Christians, who are already facing increasing oppression, blackmail, and intimidation.
Others pointed out that the only intent of the law is to intimidate Christians. "As it is, any forced conversion could be prosecuted even without this bill because the use of force would be punishable under any provision of law. The use of force is not permissible. Therefore this bill is not necessary at all," Justice Rawani, former justice of the Rajasthan High Court, told NDTV.
Last October, the southern state of Tamil Nadu also banned so-called forced conversions, but the BBC reports that the Gujarat law may be even more stringent. Other states are also considering similar laws as radical Hindus claim Christians are enemies of the state and are bribing or forcing Hindus to convert.
"They believe in Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister. You tell a lie a hundred times and people believe it is true," Ajit Jogi, the tribal Christian chief minister of Chhattisgarh state in central India, told Reuters earlier.
The radical Hindu political party BJP, which runs the national government, pushed for the bill. "Everybody in India understands that one should live and die in the religion one is born into. Nobody should have the right to disturb this tradition," said Jayanti Barot, general secretary of the Gujarat BJP.
Gujarat has been the center of much religious tension lately. Last year, Hindu attacks on Muslims left more than 1,000 people dead. Yesterday, the state's former home minister, who was accused of supporting the anti-Muslim violence, was shot dead. In recent weeks, the state has been surveying Christians in a way that many observes see as sinister.
"Only one thing has been constant in the four-year attempt to prepare a database: the preconceived notion implied in the questions that Christians receive foreign funds to 'convert' people and that they indulge in 'anti-national' activities," says an editorial in The Hindustan Times. "However, facts tell a different story. … The Christians in Gujarat have a reason to suspect that the discreet survey is a build-up to the anti-conversion bill … and/or for the preparation of a database of Christians to be handed over to communal [radical Hindu] organizations."
The Associated Press reports that among the questions asked in the survey are: Were you a Hindu earlier? When and why did you convert? Are you getting any money every month from Christians? Do you read the Bible? Why did you convert? Do you want to be reconverted to Hinduism?
An April 7 hearing will consider the All India Christian Council's request to stop the surveys.
Elsewhere in India, the trial for the murder of missionary Graham Staines and his two sons continues. Earlier this week, 23-year-old security guard Mahendra Hembram said he killed the Australians but that the other defendants, including alleged ringleader Dara Singh, were innocent. (Hebram made a similar confession in February 2002.) Three of the other defendants said yesterday that they had no part in burning the Staineses to death.
Persecution and violence:
- 12 dead as Muslim rebels attack Maguindanao town | Attacks targeted Christians in the southern Philippines (AFP)
- Pakistani court reverses Christian case | An appeals court has ordered the release of two Christians in eastern Pakistan who were sentenced to life in prison for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammed, a Christian activist said Saturday (Associated Press)
Church life and prayer in time of war:
- Troops urged to avoid 'mark of Cain' | Combat leader's words draw tears (Chicago Tribune)
- Now that war has started prayers are for quick end | Despite where they stood on the war, many ministers and church members turned their thoughts to troops Sunday (Houston Chronicle)
- Reconciling faith and war | Pastor challenges church to love the enemy (The Detroit Free Press)
- Worshipers confront war issue head-on | Many services put focus on Iraq (Chicago Tribune)
- Old hymns hold a new urgency | In songs and in prayer, those at a small church express hope for the safety of loved ones and others in the military (Los Angeles Times)
- Seeking solace in time of fear | Religious leaders tread carefully to soothe worried worshipers (The Washington Post)
- Pastors: Pray for peace during wartime | "Prayer of faith changes things," says one minister. "Expect to hear good reports, because that's why we're praying" (Mobile [Ala.] Register)
- Varied faiths gather for an evening of peace | Last night's event drew around 100 people (The Seattle Times)
- Faith strengthens, comforts youths | Religious leaders help children, teens deal with Iraq war (The Dallas Morning News)
- Prayers on war and peace | 'This is a time for us to talk to each other and hear each other' (The Dallas Morning News)
- Attendance up as Tucsonans pray for troops, peace | None of the four churches visited by a reporter took an official stance on the war, but the leaders of each congregation asked for peace (Tucson Citizen)
- Germany turning to the church as war rages | Last year alone, the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany lost about 440,000 members. But faced with the violence of war in Iraq, they are coming back, says Germany's protestant news agency EPD (Deutsche Welle)
- Leaning on faith in war time | Rabbi Craig Scheff, Al Haaj Ghazi Khankan and the Rev. Calvin Butts speak on religion in the face of war (The Early Show, CBS)
- Politics don't dominate Sunday sermons | At many churches in Wisconsin and the nation, religious leaders chose to stick to sermons they had written before the bombs started falling or to emphasize topics unrelated to war (Stevens Point Journal)
- War and prayer | All we are sure of is that Americans everywhere should do the one thing we believe can make a difference—pray (The Sampson Independent, Clinton, N.C.)
- Religion good but factor in wars | Most Americans are convinced that the influence of faith in the world is a good thing, but a majority also believes that religion plays a significant role in most wars and conflicts, according to a survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Forum (UPI)
- Chaplain shares odyssey that led him to the desert | Troops are eager 'to serve God and country,' he says (The Dallas Morning News)
- In Detroit, church that Hussein built prays for his defeat in war | Iraqis in U.S. remain hopeful of finding missing loved ones (The Wall Street Journal)
- Christian Iraqis seeking asylum in United States detained in central Mexico | The Chaldean Christians have a sizable community in Southern California and frequently try to enter the United States through Tijuana (Associated Press)
- Baghdad Catholic leader vows to keep city's churches open for refuge | The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Baghdad has vowed that the city's churches will remain open to allow Christians and Muslims to take refuge there during the US-led war, according to a newspaper article published Tuesday in Switzerland. (AFP)
Iraq war and biblical prophecy:
- War evokes biblical tales | Are these the last days? Some Christians say so (The Norwich [Ct.] Bulletin)
- Treasured past once again at risk | Many Iraqis convinced U.S. wants to blunt resurrection of Babylon (San Francisco Chronicle)
Church and state:
- In God we trust … Canadians aren't so sure | It is traditional for American leaders to speak of faith during moments they seek to bind the country. Not Canadian politicians (The New York Times)
- Alderwoman's vote blurs church and state | But as an elected official, each alderman at the meeting had an obligation to separate religious from secular when considering the issue and deciding how to vote (Yale Daily News)
- Reversal sought on Ten Commandments ruling | Child-psychologist James Dobson's Focus on the Family is one of several groups asking a federal appeals court to reverse a judge's order to remove a granite monument to the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building (The Birmingham News)
- 'Rational Mysticism': On a journalistic and spiritual quest | John Horgan, a former senior writer for Scientific American, sets out to find how trances, visions, satori and other mystical experiences work (The New York Times)
- It's young, it's hip and it's Christian | For twentysomethings looking for a way to plug into God, life and progressive culture, Relevant Magazine and its online cousin, relevantmagazine.com, seek to provide answers (The Orlando Sentinel)
- Hot cross words in battle of the buns | Story was utterly untrue (icLiverpool, U.K.)
Other stories of interest:
- Kidnapping case puts Mormons on defensive | Many Mormons here say the misperceptions about their church are back (The New York Times)
- Nigerian stoning trial delay | Judges failed to turn up for adultery sentencing (BBC)
- Watery challenge turns into a walk over | Many have tried and, aside from one miraculous occasion on the Sea of Galilee, they have all failed. But yesterday Chris Jones, a 37-year-old shop owner, achieved the supposedly impossible feat of walking on water. (The Daily Telegraph, London)
- Onward, faith-based environmentalists | Just as religion now frames international relations, religion will likely shape the environmental debate (Richard Louv, The San Diego Union-Tribune)
- Christianity is not on the wane in the world, it's just reshaping and relocating | Christianity might fade in Europe, but in global terms, for a long time yet, there will be many more Christians than Muslims in the world (Dwight Longenecker, The Times, London)
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