The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Lanka: Red alert on Terrorists and Evangelists

Colombo, 13 April (
Janaka Perera – Reporting from Colombo

Deputy Defence and Buddha Sasana Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake warned that certain elements were sending `feelers’ on the possibility of resuming fighting in the North. Abducting soldiers, shooting at them and other ceasefire violations were an indication of this dangerous trend.

He said that as a government elected by the people, the UPFA regime had a right to keep the country’s armed forces on the alert to meet any eventuality in this context, while being fully committed to peace.

The minister was speaking on Monday evening at the launching of a new book (in Sinhala) titled, The Buddha Sasana Commssion and the Duties and Responsibilities of Buddhist Organizations published by the German Dharmadutha Society at the Mahaweli Centre, Colombo.

“We can neither allow the country to be bisected nor destroyed,” he emphasized. “We cannot fight terrorism alone. We need the goodwill of the governments that assist us. We must protect our friends”

Wickremanayake identified terrorists and aggressive religious proselytizers as the main forces inimical to social stability and harmony. He pledged his full backing to Buddhists in the struggle to protect their interests against unscrupulous evangelists. He noted that the poor rural Buddhists were the most vulnerable religious community.

The Minister stressed that the anti-conversion bill’s objective was to protect the people’s right to believe any religion of their choice. Those engaged in unethical conversions were defining the Bill on their own terms to mislead the world, whereas the bill was meant to protect the interests of not only Buddhists but also those of all other religious faiths. He regretted that local Buddhists leaders were slow in taking action to prevent the wrong message on the proposed bill from reaching people in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Wickremanayake’s tone however indicated that he and other concerned Buddhists were struggling against overwhelming odds to get Parliamentary approval for the Bill. He said that the Bill envisaged in establishing an inter-religious council where all religions would be represented.

He added that in this organization, a Supreme Buddhist Sangha Council will represent the Buddhists.

Once the inter-religious body is set up no one will be permitted to set up new prayer houses or other religious centers without the council’s prior permission, according to the minister.

He said that he was visiting the provinces to study ways and means of building stronger ties between lay Buddhists and the Sangha on the religious, educational and economic levels.

One objective was for Buddhist temples to establish as many as possible nursery schools, which for past several decades had been virtually the sole monopoly of non-Buddhists, he declared.

The evangelist aim was to `catch them young,’ the minister said. The Venerable Medagama Dhammananda Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter, Kandy said that the state-controlled press was giving hardly any assistance to publicize and promote Buddhist causes.

Many of those present at the book launch expressed concerns over possible attempts at the highest levels to sabotage moves to present the anti-conversion bill in Parliament, next month.

Buddha Sasana Presidential Commission Member Dr. Anula Wijesundera, Dr. Jayadeva Tilakasiri, Vice President, German Dharmadutha Society, Senaka Weeraratne, Secretary of the Society and Attorney Prasantha Lal De Alwis were among the others who spoke.


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