Freedom of religion in Gujarat at stake: Archbishop of Gandhinagar

Archbishop of Gandhinagar, Most Rev. Stanislaus Feranandes expressing his reactions to the recent "The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill, 2003" has called it as propagation of one religion, one culture and one ideology. In an article on 'Freedom of Religion in Gujarat" on Thursday, Archbishop Fernandes said that the legislation was totally unwarranted as there had not been any case of conversion by force, allurement or any fraudulent means. He said that freedom of religion in Gujarat is at stake by the introduction of the new bill. Archbishop of Gandhinagar referring to the meeting of Christian leaders with the Governor of the State, said that the Christian leaders maintained that the Bill is against basic human and constitutional rights, the freedom of conscience and religious liberties. He said that the delegation presented a memorandum to the Gujarat Governor, where the discrimination made concerning women and members of the scheduled cast and scheduled tribe communities whose conversion attracts high punishment (imprisonment up to four years) and penalties (fine up to Rs. 1 lac or fifty thousand Euros), was pointed out. According to Archbishop Fernandes, the Bill presupposes that members of Scheduled tribes and scheduled castes cannot make an enlightened decision about their person faith. Commenting on the clause of the bill 'the religious priests shall take prior permission for conversion from the District Magistrate concerned.' Archbishop said, "Faith is a surrender to God under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This alone is true and genuine conversion and cannot be left to the scrutiny of civil government. To seek permission from the civil authority is to subject the spiritual relationship of teacher and student to human manipulation and to the arbitrary discretion of an official who has or may not have a religious sentiment." Gujarat Government under the title of "The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill, 2003" recently passed a law in the State by which conversion by force and fraudulent means, is prohibited and punishable.