The Sri Lankan Constitution and other laws and policies and the UN declaration on human rights protect religious freedom. The Sri Lankan Constitution states, “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”. The Constitution gives a citizen, “the right either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching”. The UN declaration of human rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.
The reason media reports suggest that there is escalation of violence and attacks on Churches in Sri Lankan highlighting the abuses of religious freedom in Sri Lanka. Any action that is utilized to limit the ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ is an infringement of the constitution of the country. Clearly, the attacks carried on the Churches are not just the violation of the constitution that allows religious freedom but also are a violation of human rights as well.
It must be noted that the Constitution accords Buddhism the “foremost place” and commits the government to protecting it, but does not recognize it as the state religion. However, it is widely noted that apparent motive of attack of the Churches and places of worships of minority religions in Sri Lanka is to safeguard the primacy of Buddhism. Buddha himself noted “May all being be happy minded and may their hearts be wholesome”. Such action of the concentrated group of people of fanatic devotion is not only highlights the crudeness of their religiosity but undermines and betrays teachings of their master.
Anyone who is in touch with the current situation in the country would know that this is not the first time that the Christian Churches come under attacks. Dozens of such incidents have taken place and were reported in the media over the past few years. The attacks on the Muslim places worship are also widespread. In a democracy, the rights of the minorities whether religious or racial must be respected and guaranteed. In Sri Lanka we should all realize that the country cannot afford to get more fragmented or divided. Unfortunately, in many occasion such violence has gone unnoticed and have been deliberately been ignored by the authorities on whose hand lay the responsibility of protecting the every right of a citizen. One wonders why the Ministry of Defense has failed to protect the freedom of the citizens guaranteed by the constitution. Therefore, one is prompted to grapple with the question whether the law enforcement authorities are affirming and encouraging the unruly behavior of such fanatics or are the authorities manipulating these fanatic groups to undermine democracy to their advantage? Doesn’t it demonstrate that in this “failed democracy”, there is no respect for law and order?
If any of these Churches has done wrong deliberately offending the religious sentiments or values of the parties concerned, lawful ways should be sought to address the issue. No one has the right to take the laws into their hands. Doing anything what law does not permit them to beyond the law of the land would mean taking law into their hands. The process of dialogue and negotiation should be the norm that has to be followed in promoting peace, reconciliation and inter-faith and harmonies living.
I too as a member of a Christian denomination have disagreements with some of these Christian fundamentalist groups especially with those who have roots in the US. The social and political implications of their doctrine are not favorable to the emancipation of the oppressed and the poor but they only create a submissive and docile mind in their faithful.
However I do not hesitate to stand on their behalf in defense of their basic and human rights. I am reminded of the saying, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. Finally it must be said that the magnanimity of the country’s leadership is judged not by the announcements made from the political platforms but by the way the citizens are treated, especially those living in disadvantageous social conditions.