A special report released in early December by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) titled “Limitations on Minorities’ Religious Freedom in South Asia,” focuses on anti-conversion laws in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. These regulations limit the ability of religious groups to proselytize and curb or deny individuals the right to convert to a different religion.
“Anti-conversion laws are frequently abused by extremists who seek to prevent anyone from leaving the majority religion,” said USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza. “These laws abrogate the religious freedom rights of minority communities, such as Hindus in Pakistan or Christians in Nepal, and as such they should be rescinded.”
The report gives examples of the violation of freedom of religion or belief. In India and Pakistan, the enforcement of anti-conversion and blasphemy laws has been vague and discriminatory, contributing to increasing hate crimes and false accusations against members of minority religions. It suggests that claims of the need for such restrictions are contrived, as they have failed to present credible data supporting allegations of coerced conversions by international and domestic religious groups.
“These laws are a major obstacle to efforts pursuing peace and tolerance among those of different faith as extremist and majority religious groups use these laws as tools to intimidate and prevent religious minorities from exercising their right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience,” added USCIRF Commissioner Tony Perkins. “These laws also disproportionately affect vulnerable and disfavored groups, such as Dalit Hindus and foreign humanitarian and aid workers.”
On the other hand, USCIRF applauded the passage of legislation in Canada’s Senate removing the offense of blasphemy from the country’s criminal code.
“Laws criminalizing blasphemy are detrimental to religious freedom and other human rights, such as freedom of expression,” said USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee. “These laws make governments the arbiters of truth and conscience, and are ripe for abuse against dissenting voices and members of religious minorities. USCIRF welcomes this step by the Canadian government and urges all other nations to eliminate these pernicious laws.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.