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Editorial: Proposed law against cults in...

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Editorial: Proposed law against cults in Sri Lanka threatens churches

Country/Region: South and East Asia, Central Asia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China

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The Religious Affairs Ministry in Sri Lanka has announced that it intends to introduce legislation enabling the authorities to take action against religious groups that are deemed cults in a move that threatens some of the country’s churches.

St Paul’s in Milagiriya, Colombo, is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka
St Paul’s in Milagiriya, Colombo, is one of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka

Ministry Secretary M.K.B. Dissanayake said that a dialogue with the relevant stakeholders had been initiated regarding the introduction of such a law. It would be designed to prevent anyone from “distorting the original teachings” of the country’s four main religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.

Barnabas Fund’s co-ordinator for South Asia said that this was “a very dangerous proposal as it will affect all Evangelical churches in the country”. Evangelical churches are not recognised by the Religious Affairs Ministry and are thus liable to be labelled as “cults” by those who do not understand the Christian faith and want to prevent activity they deem undesirable or threatening.

This proposed legislation is the latest threat to the Church in Sri Lanka, which has been facing increasing opposition. Last month, ten anti-Christian incidents were recorded in the country. These mostly involved the harassment of churches by Buddhist extremists in what may be a concerted campaign.  

On Sunday (24 March), Galaboda Aththe Gnanasarathera of hard-line Buddhist group the Bodu Bala Sena said that the country should be ready to rally against what he described as Christian and Muslim extremist groups operating in the country. Buddhists are particularly hostile to Christian evangelism and campaign for laws to control religious conversion.

In this context of animosity towards Christian groups, Buddhists would undoubtedly use the proposed new religious legislation to put pressure on the authorities to target vulnerable churches. Buddhism is already afforded the "foremost place" by the government.

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