In a very curious ruling, the Fiji Human Rights Commission has found that the proposed campaign by the Methodist Church Conference to convert non-Christians in Fiji would violate the freedom of religion under the country’s constitution and international law. It is difficult to see how prostylizing for voluntary conversions would violate the freedom of religion under any definition.
In a press release the group warned that efforts to target the native population would be a grave mistake.
Commission chairperson, Dr Shaista Shameem said her office was responding to statements by the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, announcing the initiative.
In a public statement, the group stated:
Dr Shameem said that any such targeting of a minority group for particular attention for evangelizing or conversion by the Methodist Church would violate the fundamental human rights principle of freedom of religion enshrined in the 1997 Constitution of Fiji. It would also breach essential principles of the rule of law and international human rights. Most significantly, it would run contrary to the Methodist Church’s own avowed commitment, given publicly at its annual conference, to promote human rights, the 1997 Constitution and the rule of law.
In the United States, the effort to bar such a campaign would be viewed as a violation of the freedom of religion. It is unfortunate that a human rights commission would take such an untenable position. To the extent that its interpretation is correct, the Constitution should be changed. However, given its assertions regarding international law, it would seem doubtful that any provision guaranteeing freedom of religion would bar the freedom to prostylize. It is akin to supporting the freedom of speech so long as you do not utter a sound.
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