An act providing the freedom of religion for all communities and the freedom to practice their traditions without interference or unsolicited proselytization. For a background on how “Freedom of Religion” differs for indigenous traditions see “Conversion War and Religious Freedom” and my talk on the issue of religious freedom. This draft is for India but may be modified to protect the indigenous elsewhere.
India is land of many diverse faiths, beliefs, traditions and practices. Freedom of such beliefs and practices is guaranteed under the Indian constitution. India has also historically allowed a diversity of paths to flourish and given shelter to persecuted groups such as Parsis and Tibetan Buddhists.
Indian pluralism has flourished on the basis of mutual respect. Every community has a right to practice their traditions without undue interference from the state, courts or from other religious groups intent on getting them to convert. Such aggressive proselytization both violates the freedom of communities to practice their traditions without interference as well as leads to communal disharmony and retaliatory actions.
The Freedom of Religion Act provides a “safe space” for all traditions to co-exist and practice without being subject to systematic institutional proselytization to get them to convert or abandon these traditions. At the same time it reaffirms the right of any individual to pursue their own path for happiness and fulfillment and decide to continue or change to any other path. These provisions are intended for different religious communities to live in harmonious co-existence in India.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the Union of India in the Eighteenth Year of the Republic of India
1. Short title, extent and commencement
(1) This Act may be called the Freedom of Religion Act, 2016.
(2) It shall extend to the whole of the Republic of India.
(3) It shall come into force at once.
In this Act unless the context otherwise requires:
(a) “conversion” means renouncing one religion and adopting another;
(b) “force” shall include a show of force or a threat for injury of any kind including threat
of divine displeasure or social excommunication;
(c) “fraud” shall include misrepresentation or any other fraudulent contrivance;
(d) “inducement” shall include the offer of any gift or gratification, either in cash or in
kind and shall also include the grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise;
(e) “minor” means a person under eighteen years of age.
(f) “proselytization” means the act of marketing, spreading or disseminating information, including by text, audio, video, print in order to induce or convince others for conversion.
(Existing state provision to be made all-India)
3. Prohibition of forcible conversion
No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.
4. Prohibition of institutional conversion
No person or persons shall form or operate an organization with religious conversions as one of its aims. No college, church, temple, school or other institution may teach strategies to convert or attempt to convert other people. No institution shall give out calls to convert other people or teach strategies for doing so. This provision shall not apply to reversion of religion of a person who was previously converted or whose ancestors were converted.
5. No direct or indirect compensation.
No person shall receive any monetary benefits or such inducements to convert or attempt to convert others or for proselytization. Getting people to change their religion shall not be a valid professional activity and any compensation for the same is illegal.
6. No foreign funds for proselytization.
No NGO or religious body that receives FCRA funds in whole or part may engage in any proselytization activity. (This provision shall not apply to funds received from NRIs or OCI from their own resources, but not as a conduit for third party funds.)
7. No solicitation of minors.
No proselytization may be carried out in any school, orphanage or other institution nor any religious preaching shall be given to minors for purpose of converting or attempting to convert them. The passing on of traditions from one generation to the next without interference is a fundamental right.
8. No unsolicited marketing of religious conversion
All activities for proselytization will be on an opt-in basis. Thus no one shall proselytize in a public place, via public advertisement or via unsolicited institutional or one-on-one marketing. The right to “propagate” religion is an intended for individuals to share their faith with people they know and who express interest in their religion, not for unsolicited spam or for institutional marketing.
9. Sanctity of place of worship.
No place of worship—Church, temple, mosque or gurudwara—shall be newly established in a village or place which is disproportionate to the number of practitioners of that religion pre-existing in that place. No place of worship will use FCRA funds for its construction or maintenance. No place of worship, Church, temple, mosque, gurudwara, may be used for political purposes, political meetings or a call be made to support or oppose any political party or candidate.
10. Right to practice.
Every community will have the right to practice their traditions without interference from the state or from other people or communities asking them to change their religion. The state shall follow the bar of “rarest of rare” in interfering with traditional practices and advocate self-regulation over state regulation as long as the practice does not infringe on the rights of other communities.
11. Nationalization of religious institutions.
No religious institution in India that owns real property shall have a subsidiary relationship, either formal, informal or ecclesiastical with a foreign religious entity. Control of land and institutions shall be fully vested in the Indian authority without any formal or informal foreign ecclesiastical authority exercising control.
12. Punishment for contravention of the provisions of Section 3-9
Any person contravening the provisions contained in Section 3-9 shall, without prejudice to any civil liability, be punishable with imprisonment of either description which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees (or five times the quantum of the compensation received for proselytization activities, whichever is larger) or both; Provided that in case the offence is committed in respect of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes the punishment shall be imprisonment to the extent of two years and fine up to ten thousand rupees (or ten times the quantum of the compensation received for proselytization activities, whichever is larger).
Any institution or NGO found in violation of sections 3-9 will liable to closure and fines and their principals debarred from association with any other NGO for a period of 10 years.
13. Offence to be cognizable
An offence under this Act shall be cognizable and shall not be investigated by an officer below the rank of a sub-Inspector of Police.
14. Notice before conversion.
(1) Any person domiciled in the State, intending to convert his religion, shall give a notice to the District Magistrate of the District in which he is permanently resident, prior to such conversion, in Form A. (2) The District Magistrate shall cause all notices received under sub-rule (1) of rule 3 to be entered in a Register of Notices and Complaints of conversion in Form B, and may within fifteen days from the receipt of said notice, get the matter enquired into by such agency as he may deem fit and record his findings as regards the particulars of notice given: Provided that the person giving notice and any other person likely to be prejudicially affected shall be given adequate opportunity to associate himself with any such enquiry. On receipt of the application made under sub-rule (1) in Form A, the District Magistrate shall put his signature thereon indicating the date and time of receipt of such app