No freedom of religion: Christian pastor, his wife and small child jailed for holding prayer meeting in their home

praying hands on black background by Myriam Zilles is licensed under Unsplash
HAIDARGARH, UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA - Harendra Singh, a pastor, and his wife, Priya, were jailed after hosting a prayer meeting in their home, on allegations of “luring innocent people into Christianity.” Lawmakers say the activity is a violation of the anti-conversion laws in their state. The married couple's three-year-old son was jailed along with them, as is customary in India for children under six when both parents are incarcerated.

The nation of India’s constitution guarantees religious freedom to everyone, but Utter Pradesh is one of 12 out of India’s 28 states that have anti-conversion laws on the books.

State legislators have said that they have to have the law in place to protect gullible people from being convinced to convert to Christianity, according to a story on the website End Time Headlines

“In the recent past many such examples have come to light where gullible persons have been converted from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement by fraudulent means,” legislators reasoned in the law.

Pastor Singh has denied the allegations that the prayer meeting was an attempt to allure unwitting people into Christianity.

Christians make up one percent of the state’s 200 million residents.

The state passed its Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act in the fall of 2020. According to the law, anyone wishing to convert to a new religion must petition a District Magistrate at least 60 days in advance to notify the state of their intent. Failure to do so could lead to jail time ranging between six months and three years, as well as a 10,000 rupee fine, which is roughly $120 in the US.

The individual performing a conversion ceremony must also file with the Magistrate’s office at least thirty days in advance. The magistrate will begin a police investigation into the means, methods and legal applications of the conversion. Violation of this section can be punishable by one to five years and a 25,000 rupee fine ($300).

Under this Act, the burden of proof falls on Singh and his wife. “The burden of proof as to whether a religious conversion was not effected by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage, lies on the person who has caused the conversion,” the law states.

Under the Statements of Objections Reasons, the Act spells out the nation’s view on religious freedom, saying that the State has no recognized religion, that no religion will be shown preference over another, and that every person is “free to preach, practice, and propagate any religion of their choice.” 

“It is unfortunate that their three-year-old son also had to go to prison with them,” Dinanath Jaiswal, a social activist assisting persecuted Christians told the Union of Catholic Asian News.
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