Gospel for Asia fears Nepal’s draft constitution could threaten religious freedom

Nepal’s draft constitution has left Gospel for Asia with mixed feelings after a legislative committee last week proposed retaining a ban on activities aimed at religious conversions.

The formerly Hindu kingdom is in the process of drafting a new constitution after becoming a secular nation in 2006, at the end of a decade-long civil war.

The draft constitution guarantees the right of religious denominations to control their own affairs but the legislative committee wants a clause upholding a ban on encouraging conversions which has existed in Nepal since 1951.

The draft constitution does not penalise an individual for changing their religion, but would punish those who engage in activities that may lead to a person’s conversion.

GFA said it was “concerned” by the attempt to restrict conversions but said provisions protecting individual religious freedom and the right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs were possible “silver linings” in the draft constitution.

The group said its concern related not so much to the wording of the new constitution as the interpretation of its content, as it warned that similar laws in neighbouring India had been misused by anti-Christian radicals to harass believers.

Despite some reservations, GFA President Dr K P Yohannan said the new constitution offered a “glimmer of hope” for churches in Nepal.

“Until now, the Nepali government has not recognised Christianity as a legal religion so Christians cannot register a church, buy property or conduct weddings and funerals,” he explained.

“If, under the new constitution, the government recognises Christianity, this will be a positive thing for the churches.”

“In the end, the anti-conversion law will not stop people from coming to Christ, just as similar laws have not stopped people from coming to Christ in India or China or Bhutan or in Muslim countries.”

Yohannan urged Christians to pray that the new constitution would grant Christians the same rights as followers of other religions in Nepal.

He added: “Please pray quickly because the Nepali parliament will act on this matter very soon.”