Freedom of religion in Sri Lanka

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Freedom of religion in Sri Lanka has been historically upheld through religious tolerance and multiculturalism[citation needed]. The practice of Hinduism was allowed under Sinhala kings since the Anuradhapura era. Buddhist Sinhala kings gave protection to Muslims fleeing from Portuguese persecution and to Catholics fleeing from persecution by the Dutch after having defeated by the Portuguese.

The constitution and other laws accord Buddhism “foremost place” (priority consideration), but nonetheless Sri Lanka officially has no state religion and allows other religions to co-exists. As per the constitution, government should look after the welfare of the Buddhism.[1]

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.[2]

At times, local police and government officials appeared to be acting in concert with Buddhist nationalist organizations. In addition, in 2013 NGOs allege that government officials provided assistance, or at least tacitly supported the actions of societal groups targeting religious minorities.[3]

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 groups.[1]

There is no existing legislation which restricts the right of individuals to proselytize members of one faith to convert them to another religion. 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.[4]

This coexistence has been recently marred by isolated incidents and attacks on religious places by Buddhist mobs and by LTTE. Similarly Sri Lankan air force particularly has air raided Hindu, Christian shrines during the peak of war thinking that LTTE is taking shelter in there. Navaly church bombing is one notable example of air raid by Sri Lankan air force.

Several Hindu temples were attacked in the riots of 1983 in Colombo and South of Sri Lanka.

Two of the holiest sites for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and the Temple of the Tooth, have been attacked and bombed by the LTTE. In recent times, the LTTE have also attacked several Muslim mosques in the North-Eastern parts of the country. Navaly church bombing is one notable such air raid by Sri Lankan air force.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Sri Lanka". US State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2014. 
  2. "Sri Lanka". US State Department International Religious Freedom Report 2011. 
  3. "Sri Lanka". US State Department Religious Freedom Report 2013. 
  4. "Sri Lanka". ReligLaw – International Center for Law and Religious Studies,.