LOUISVILLE

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons has issued a call to prayer for Christians in Nepal, where proposed new laws could severely curtail religious freedom and expression in that country.

The PC(USA) partners ecumenically in Nepal through the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), which appealed to its partners to issue the call to prayer.

The interim constitution in Nepal, adopted in 2007, declares the country a secular state, gives every citizen freedom of opinion and expression and the right to “profess, practice and preserve his/her own religion as handed down to him/her in ancient times.”

However, four provisions of the newly proposed law jeopardize those freedoms, according to preliminary analysis of the legislation by UMN:

  • “No one shall perform action with the intention to hate or insult/undermine any caste, creed, communal or group’s religious faith…”
  • “No one shall perform any act to undermine any religious feeling in writing, words, figures or symbols or by any other act to undermine any caste, creed, communal or group/class...”
  • “No one shall put obstacle deliberately on the religious rituals which have been in practice and in existence from the time immemorial.”
  • “No one shall convert any one’s religion or propagate or humiliate others’ religion. No one shall perform any act or behavior that will interfere in others’ religion, faith or belief of other caste, creed or communal or convert to other religion or propagate religion or faith either by enticing or not enticing.”

While acknowledging that “several of these clauses could provide substantial protection to religious faith and observance, particularly for minority faiths like Christianity,” UMN stated, “there are, however, grave concerns about some parts of these laws, and the potential impact on Christians, churches and Christian organizations, as well as other minority religious groups.”

The provision about conversion, for instance, “seems so broad that almost any religious practice could potentially be in breach of the law,” UMN Executive Director Mark Galpin said in a letter to UMN supporters.

Other concerns, Galpin added, revolve around whether the “time immemorial” language means that the law refers only to Hinduism and Buddhism, which have far longer histories in Nepal than Christianity and Islam, and “whether discriminatory practices which are embedded in religious belief ― like the caste system, for example, or inequitable treatment of women and girls ― would be protected from scrutiny or criticism.”

The full text of Parsons’ call to prayer:

New legislation is being formulated in Nepal that greatly concerns our Christian brothers and sisters. According to our partners, the proposed codes contain clauses that that could provide substantial protection to religious faith and observance, particularly for minority faiths like Christianity. However, our partners also raise grave concerns about the potential impact of other provisions of the proposed codes on Christians, churches and Christian organizations, as well as other minority religious groups. Out of our concern for our partners and the other people of Nepal, out of the historic Presbyterian commitment to religious freedom, and in response to the specific request of our partners, I invite you to pray for Nepal.

Please remember all the people of Nepal in your prayer. Please remember the Christians and members of other religious minorities who feel vulnerable and fearful as new laws are being developed. Please also pray for the government and leaders of Nepal that they might govern wisely and fairly and make decisions that will respect the freedoms of religion, opinion, belief and expression of all the Nepali people.

*The Rev. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations in New York, furnished valuable information for this story.