Freedom of religion in Sri Lanka

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Freedom of religion in Sri Lanka is a protected right under Chapter II, Article 9 of the constitution of Sri Lanka. This applies to all religions, though Buddhism is given primary protection as the state religion. Buddhism was given the foremost place by President J. R. Jayawardene in 1978, though Sri Lanka is regarded by its Supreme Court as being a secular country.[1]

Limitations on proselytism were outlined by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 2018, with the ruling against a Catholic organisation stating that the provision of economic and financial support to vulnerable individuals while promulgating a faith was an infringement upon those individuals' right to freedom of religion.[2][3]


Article 9 of the constitution states: "The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e)."[4]

Articles 10 and 14(1)(e) state: "Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice." and "Every citizen is entitled to the freedom, either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching."[5]


Matters related to family law, e.g., divorce, child custody and inheritance are adjudicated under customary law of the applicable ethnic or religious group. For example, the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 years, except in the case of Muslims, who continued to follow their customary religious practices of girls attaining marrying age with the onset of puberty and men when they are financially capable of supporting a family.[6]

In 2014, the government established a special religious police unit to deal with religious complaints. The new unit reports to the Ministry of Law and Order, although it is housed in the Buddhist Division of the Ministry of Buddhist Sasana and Religious Affairs. Critics argue that it will bolster and strengthen the violent Buddhist nationalist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena(BBS) [7]

Foreign clergy may work in the country, but for the last three decades, the government has limited the issuance of temporary work permits. Work permits for foreign clergy are issued for one year (rather than five years as in the past). It is possible to obtain extensions of work permits.[8]

Inter-religious relations[edit]

The practice of Hinduism was allowed under Sinhalese kings since the Anuradhapura era. Buddhist Sinhalese kings gave protection to Muslims fleeing from Portuguese persecution and to Catholics fleeing from persecution by the Dutch after having been defeated by the Portuguese.

This coexistence has been marred by isolated incidents and attacks on religious places by Islamic extremist groups and Buddhist extremist group. Several Hindu temples were attacked in the riots of 1983 in Colombo and South of Sri Lanka. During the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Sri Lankan air force air raided Hindu and Christian shrines in the belief that LTTE rebels had taken shelter in there, with the Navaly church bombing being one notable event. Two of the holiest sites for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and the Temple of the Tooth, were attacked and bombed by the secularist LTTE. The LTTE also attacked several Muslim mosques in North-Eastern parts of the country.

At times, local police and government officials have appeared to be acting in concert with Buddhist nationalist organizations. In 2013, several non-governmental organisations alleged that government officials provided assistance, or at least tacitly supported the actions of societal groups targeting religious minorities.[9]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Sri Lanka: Sharp increase in violence against Christians. World Watch Monitor (2018-10-29). Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  3. ^ A Bill titled "Provincial of the Teaching Sisters of the Holy Crossofthe Third OrderofSaint Francis in Menzingen of Sri Lanka (Incorporation)". Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-02-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ New Constitution: State, Religion & Buddhism. Colombo Telegraph (2016-07-14). Retrieved 2019-04-22.
  6. ^ "Sri Lanka". US State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2011.
  7. ^ "Sri Lanka". US State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2014.
  8. ^ "Sri Lanka". ReligLaw – International Center for Law and Religious Studies.
  9. ^ "Sri Lanka". US State Department Religious Freedom Report 2013.