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A secular Sri Lanka will promote religious harmony & help us to be more religious

Statement by group of Sri Lankan Catholics – 3rd August 2016

As Catholic Clergy, Religious and laity from different Catholic dioceses and different Religious congregations from different parts of Sri Lanka, it is our view that Sri Lanka should be a secular state that recognizes, promotes and protects all universally recognized human rights.

To us, a secular state is one that doesn’t give foremost place, prominence and privileges to one religion, constitutionally or in practice. In our view, such a secular state will enable individuals and communities to be more religious and spiritual and will also promote harmony and co-existence amongst different religious communities. It will strengthen right of freedom of religion of all individuals and communities.

While we recognize the historical and present day contributions of all religions to the country and its peoples, we are also conscious of attacks, restrictions and variety of problems faced by the numerically smaller religious and ethnic communities, at the hands of the Sinhalese – Buddhist dominated Sri Lankan state and majority communities. Constitutional provisions are one of the important means of protecting rights of numerical minorities.

To have a secular state, article 9 of the present constitution that says “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give Buddhism the foremost place” must be done away. To us, this clause appears to be a contradiction to article 12 (2) of the present constitution which states that “no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds”.

In this regard, we endorse the statement in the 2013 “Pastoral letter” by all the Catholic Bishops in Sri Lanka that stated that “Sri Lanka should shed all those clauses or conditions in its constitution that could be interpreted or read to justify different forms of discrimination against its people”[1].

It’s in this context that we note with concern, and reject the recent statement of the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, saying that he doesn’t recognize the concept of a secular state[2]. We are also concerned about the Cardinal’s statement implying that human rights are a western idea imposed on us, and that it can destroy our cultural heritage[3]. It is our firm conviction that human rights are universal and captures the teachings of Christianity and other religious and spiritual traditions about human dignity, equality, value of life etc. During times when Church leadership has been blind and deaf to biblical and church teaching on human rights, we recognize and appreciate the role social movements and secular institutions such as the UN has played in awakening us to our vocation to promote and protect human rights.

While we welcome Cardinal’s commitment to work together with Buddhists, we underline that such collaboration must be not to discriminate and suppress numerical minorities, but rather, to promote and protect human rights of all, especially of numerical minorities.

To our knowledge, Cardinal’s statement has been made without consultation and thus, it may not even represent the views of Catholics of the Colombo Archdiocese. At the moment, Cardinal Ranjith is the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka, which historically has been a position rotated on a regular basis, amongst the different Bishops who are members of the conference. But it should be noted that the Archbishop of Colombo doesn’t represent or lead in anyway the other 11 Catholic dioceses in Sri Lanka which are headed by their own Bishops. There are also many Catholic Religious Congregations in Sri Lanka which the Archbishop doesn’t represent. For all purposes, this appears to be a personal statement of the Cardinal and not of the Catholics in Sri Lanka.

We reiterate that as Catholics, we recognize the relevance and applicability of universally recognized human rights to Sri Lanka and fundamental vocation of all Catholics, along with all others, to protect and promote human rights. We also commit ourselves to secular Sri Lanka, which in practice and in its constitution, will not give foremost place, prominence or privilege to any religion, but rather will recognize and promote rights of all persons and communities to have a religion of his or her choice or not to have a religion.

Names of the signatories;

1. Ms. Amali Perera 2. Rev. Fr. Ananda Fernando 3. Mr. Anthony Jesudasan  4. Mr. Aruna Roshantha   5. Rev. Sr. Beatrice Fernando SDS   6. Mrs. Beatrice I. Fernando  7. Mr. Canicious Fernando   8. Mrs. Christine Perera   9. Ms. Deanne Uyangoda    10. Rev. Sr. Deepa Fernando, HF   11. Mr. Dencil Perera   12. Dharshani Alles SFO   13. Rev. Fr. Edward S. C. Mariathas   14. Mrs. Erin Perera   15. Mr. Ervin Perera 16. Rev. Sr. Ethal Fernando  17. Mrs. Ethal Perera  18. Mr. Evole F. Perera  19. Rev. Sr. Eymard Fernando HF  20. Rev. Fr. F. J.Gnanaraj  Croos   21. Mr. Francis Perera   22. Mr. Francis Rajan   23. Mrs. Gertrude Perera   24. Ms. Githika Perera    25. Rev. Fr. Godfrey Fernando   26. Mr. Gration Fernando   27. Mr. Herman Kumara  28. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos   29. Mr. Joe William   30. Mr. Jude Fernando  31. Mr. K. Chandra Perera  32. Mr. K.J. Brito Fernando  33. Mr. Kamal Perera   34. Ms. Kanchana Kumari    35. Mrs. Kanthi Perera  36. Mrs. Lakmali Maheshika  37. Mr. Lal Luxman    38. Mrs. Lasanthi Perera   39. Mrs. Laveena Hasanthi  40. Mr. Loyal Fernando   41. Mrs. Lucilda Perera   42. Ms. Lucille Abeykoon  43. Rev. Sr. Mahesh Fenando  44. Mr. Mahinda Namal    45. Mrs. Mallika Perera   46. Mrs. Maria Modwin   47. Ms. Marian Fernando  48. Ms. Marisa De Silva  49. Mrs. Mary Carmel   50. Ms. Melani Manel Perera  51. Mrs. Manel Perera  52. Mr. Meril Fernando   53. Rev. Sr. Milburga Fernando   54. Ms. Monica Alfred   55. Rev. Fr. Nandana  Manatunga       56. Rev. Sr. Nichola   57. Mrs. Nilangani Silva   58. Mr. Nimal Fernando  59. Mr. Nimal I. Perera   60. Mr. Nilshan Fonseka   61. Mrs. Nirmalee Perera    62. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando  63. Mrs. Olivia Fernando   64. Rev. Fr. Oswald Firth, OMI   65. Mr. Philip Setunga   66. Rev. Sr. Plasida  Lihinikaduwa   67. Mr. Pradeep Laksiri    68. Mr. Prashan Perera   69. Mrs. Princy Perera  70. Mr. Priyankara Costa  71. Mr. Priyantha Perera 72. Ms. Pujani Ramaara   73. Rev. Fr. R. Augustine   74. Mr. Ranjith Fernando    75. Sr. Rasika Peiris, HF            76. Rev. Fr. Ravichandran Emmanuel  77. Mrs. Reeta Maheshwari  78. Rev. Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando       79. Mrs. Rose Verginia   80. Mr. Ruki Fernando   81. Mr. Sanjeewa Fernando 82. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda  83. Mrs. Shankala Cooray  84. Mrs. Shanthini Fernando  85. Rev. Sr. Shanthini Fernando      86. Rev. Fr. Sherard  Jayawardane   87. Mrs. Shirani Cooray  88. Dr. Shirley Wijesinghe  89. Mr. Shivantha Cooray   90. Mr. Stanly Perera  91. Rev. Bro. Stanley Perera  SFO 92. Mr. Sunil Perera   93. Mr. Suren D. Perera   94. Rev. Sr. Sylvia Callen S.C.J.M  95. Rev. Fr. Terence Fernando   96. Fr.V. Yogeswaran, S.J.   97. Rev. Sr. Vijaya  98. Mr. Vincent Fernando  99. Ms. Winifrida Fernando

- Melani


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