Sri Lanka's Christians are expressing relief over the country's supreme court ruling this week. The justices ruled that certain significant clauses in the controversial anti-conversion bill are unconstitutional.
The court said the "Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Bill" needs a two-thirds majority in the Parliament and a national referendum to become law in its present form. Or it could become law with a simple majority if amended.
The court decision came as a blow to the all-Buddhist monks' political party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which has been campaigning to ban conversions to Christianity. The JHU introduced this bill in Parliament on July 21. JHU had contested April parliamentary elections, promising to bring an anti-conversion law, and won nine seats. The bill proposed about fines of U.S. $11,000 fine and imprisonment for up to seven years for violators.
Observers note that the bill has hit rock bottom and is unlikely to get a two-thirds majority in Parliament voting. They say it has the potential to divide Sri Lankan society, which is already scarred by ethnic divisions, along religious lines. And going through the additional referendum will make passing the bill almost impossible. If the JHU goes for amendments, the changes would almost render the bill toothless, observers say.
Twenty-two petitions by prominent Christians and Church organizations, including the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), were filed in the court challenging the bill's constitutional validity. The court, while making many recommendations, determined that two clauses were inconsistent with the constitution.
Roshini Wickremesinhe, legal officer with the NCEASL, said, "Christians are happy that the court ...1
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