Curbing Religious Tension in Myanmar: Part 2

Christians Remain Hopeful for the Future

By ICC’s Myanmar Correspondent

This is a three-part series. To view part one, click here.

01/15/2021 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) –The National League for Democracy (NLD) party has won another 5-year term with a landslide victory, and Christians in Myanmar are hopeful for the future. The party has already demonstrated that it is willing to improve religious freedom (see part one), and it just may unite some of the more contentious regions.

Yangon is the largest city and economic center in the country, where eight million people reside. Many Christians from various denominations are among them. In Yangon, different ethnic and religious struggles emerge that are unique to this region. For ethnic Indians and Chinese, being both a minority and a Christian creates a double challenge in their lives.

One ethnic Indian pastor named Johnson told ICC,  “When it comes to religion, [Myanmar] is still in a fragile stage. In NLD’s election manifesto, there was no item related to religion, but indirectly the party did mention the necessity of human rights promotion. I believe religious freedom is already included in human rights. One thing that I am looking forward to is NLD’s abolishment of Myo-Sount-Ubaday (Race and Religion Protection Laws), laws that have been hindering religious freedom. There are two things that are really needed to amend those laws: First, Religious Conversion Law, which intentionally controls human rights. Everyone has the right to express whatever they believe. As long as no one is pressured to convert to another religion, this right should be granted to every individual. In my opinion, religious conversion is not a concern of the government. Therefore, I would like to see this law being amended in this upcoming parliamentary session.”

For believers like Johnson, this new leadership change represents hope for the future, but first, changes must be made.

He added, “In relation to this issue, it is quite difficult to obtain the National Registration Card. There are a lot of restrictions regarding different ethnicities and religions. Yet, there should be a lot more flexibility so one can identify with his/her religion on the identification card. I hope this government will offer flexibility.”

Johnson went on to express his wishes to see free marriages between people from different faiths. Even though the Interfaith Marriage Law only targets specific groups of people with certain religious backgrounds, this law undermines human rights. He believes that people should have the freedom to express their love to their counterparts, regardless of their religion.

He also expects the government to grant more licenses for pastors to conduct wedding ceremonies. When people from the same faith marry at church, the documentation shows an understanding among them. However, it is not an official document since licensed pastors are too few and demand is too great. Therefore, he hopes that the judiciary courts can grant more licenses for pastors and validate marriage certificates issued by churches to be official.

Finally, Johnson says that the Burmese government has taken many properties and social services such as schools and hospitals from the churches. He thinks these properties should be returned if the government no longer uses them. Also, he believes that the NLD government should give back the right to own land and be more flexible about granting permits for building religious structures.

Although religion may be a sensitive issue in this country, Christians hope that the NLD will grant permission for these rights as a government that prioritizes human rights and equality.

This is a three-part series. Stay tuned for part three.

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