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Report recommends steps to minimise conversions

Report recommends steps to minimise conversions

Publication: The Sunday Times
Date: January 25, 2009
URL: http://sundaytimes.lk/090125/News/sundaytimesnews_19.html

The Commission on Unethical Conversions has recommended that written approval from a District Secretary must be made compulsory for the construction or expansion of places of worship to minimize unethical conversion of Buddhists to other faiths.

This applies to Buddhist temples, churches, kovils, mosques and other places of worship and the Pradeshiya Sashanarakshaka Balamandalaya should be notified of this approval obtained from the District Secretary within two weeks, upon which the DS should publicise the requirements of the place of worship, carry out an investigation and then announce his/her decision on the matter, the Commission in its report released recently said.

The commission appointed by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress was headed by former High Court judge Kalubowilage Sarath Gunatilake and comprised Dr. Ariyaratna Lankachandra (former Director of Education), Dr. Pagngnadasa Gardiye Punchihewa (former civil servant ), Herbert Gamini Gunawardane (former Senior Deputy Inspector General Of Police ) Disanayake Mudiyanselage Jayathilake Dissanayake (former Director of Education) , Somaratne Kariyawasam (formerly Commisioner of Buddhist Affairs, Budagoda Arachchige Don Alfred Wijewardana (formerly Senior Suprintendent Of Police ) Kathriartchige Srimathie Chitra Wijesekara (formerly of Sri Lanka Education Administrative Service) and Karuna De Silva (former company directress )

The commission recommended that newly registered religious or missionary institutes should handover an affidavit or take an oath promising only to engage in religious work among already established followers and not convert those from other faiths to that of their own.Article 9 of the Constitution states that the Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14 (1)(e), the Commission observed.

However, that foremost place and fostering does not apply to other religions, the report said.

"The government should conduct investigations on post 1972 religious groups and "cults" that arrived in Sri Lanka, and ban them if they are found to be of a harmful nature, the report said.

The Commission report said the anti-conversion bill presented in Parliament as a private member's bill had lapsed with the prorogation of Parliament last year, adding that the draft bill which had been prepared by Buddhist and Hindu organisations should be presented to Parliament as a government bill and passed without delay.

The government must formulate proactive laws that would prevent buildings that are constructed by obtaining licenses from local authorities under the guise of buildings for dwelling or business purposes and later being used as places of worship, the report further recommended.

Citing individuals and organisations with a foreign background as those who most frequently get in the way of protecting and fostering the Buddha Sasana, the Commission recommended that an institute that answers to the legislature similar to the Auditor General's Department be set up as a step towards implementing Article 9 of the republic's constitution.

Referring to Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) the Commission report said that an authority coming under the purview of the Finance Ministry which answers to the Treasury should be set up to monitor local and international NGOs adding that such an authority could scrutinize the accounts of those NGOs. Introducing legislation necessary for this purpose should be a priority of the government, it said.

Such an authority, the Commission said, should make sure that the NGOs in question operate within the responsibilities and confines imposed by the government. Carrying out projects that directly or indirectly involve unethical conversion by must be banned, the report said.

The proposed authority must have the powers to cancel the license of any NGO that goes against its advice, the report added.

In addition to these, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) should establish a 'data centre' where members of the public can lodge complaints against attempts at unethical conversion, unauthorised construction of places of worship, fundamentalist "praying centres" and other conspiratorial acts that attempt to tarnish the image of the Buddhist clergy and the public, the report said. The assistance of the Maha Sangha, the Buddhist public and Buddhist organisations both local and international should be sought for this purpose, the Commission added.

The report by the Commission on Unethical Conversions appointed to look into alleged unethical conversions of Buddhists to other faiths was released and presented to members of the Buddhist clergy by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress early this month at Ananda College, Colombo.

According to the report among the objectives of the commission were to ascertain information to help identify the general structure and operational mechanism of organisations engaged directly or indirectly in converting Sri Lankan Buddhists to other faiths, to ascertain the sources of funding of such organisations, to investigate the disbursement of financial and other assistance by these organizations to achieve the set goals of these organisations in the fields of education and to ascertain the popular strategies employed to convert unsuspecting people to other religions in urban and rural areas.

The report cited as reasons for setting up the Commission, the "erosion of moral values in Sri Lankan society" following the introduction of the open economy and the alleged involvement of Christian fundamentalists and Islamic propagandists.

The report went on to cite 384 organisations which it said were either church groups or organisations with a religious background operating in the country. There were several schools and education institutes, including many nurseries actively engaged in unethical conversion, the report said.

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