Barnabas Fund Reports: Indian Christians Challenge Karnataka Anti-Conversion Laws

Barnabas Fund Reports

Indian Christians Challenge Karnataka Anti-Conversion Law

Indian Christians have launched a formal challenge against the anti-conversion law in Karnataka.

An appeal (known as a petition) against the law was filed with the Karnataka High Court jointly by two Christian organisations.

The court issued notice to the state government of Karnataka on 22 July, requiring the government to respond to the petition within four weeks of that date.

The petition argues that the anti-conversion law infringes on a person’s right to convert from one religion to another for any reason they choose.

Furthermore, the ordinance places the burden of proof on the accused – the person alleged to have caused another to convert through force, fraud or allurement, or the person alleged to have converted unlawfully – rather than on the prosecution.

Finally, it is argued the anti-conversion law is not compatible with Article 25 of India’s constitution, which enshrines freedom of religion.

The government of Karnataka issued the anti-conversion ordinance in May 2022. An ordinance is effectively a temporary law that lasts for six months.

The ordinance states that a person wishing to convert from one religion to another must inform the district magistrate two months in advance. The magistrate will then carry out an investigation to discover the reasons behind the conversion. Failing to inform the magistrate can result in up to three years’ imprisonment for a person wishing to convert, and up to five years for a person helping them to convert.

Depending on the outcome of the High Court appeal, a permanent anti-conversion law may be passed at the next session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, though the date of the next session has yet to be announced.

Ten other Indian states have anti-conversion laws that prohibit seeking converts through force, fraud or allurement. Such laws create problems for Christians, as simply sharing the Gospel can be considered allurement, and extremists often interpret any evangelism as unlawful.