“Until the right to retain one’s religion is part of the international legal framework and understood to be essential to constructive interfaith engagement, we will continue to witness the annihilation of entire cultures and civilizations,” Suhag Shukla, executive director of Hindu American Foundation (HAF), said yesterday.
In a statement HAF welcomed Modi’s remarks on his government’s commitment to religious freedom at an event to celebrate the canonization by Pope Francis of two Indian Catholics, Kuriakose Elias Chavara andMother Euphrasia.
The Foundation was especially encouraged by Modi’s specific mention of the “right to retain religion” as an integral part of religious freedom, the statement said.
Speaking at the Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, Modi said, “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”
HAF, alongside others, has long advocated for the specific addition of the right to retain one’s religion into extant international law.
It claims that while the right to adopt and change religion were included in both the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 18 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the absence of the right to retain religion is a major source of conflict.
The Foundation’s leaders noted that recent campaigns by Hindu groups in India to reclaim converts attracted vast media attention, but it pales in comparison to the proselytizing efforts of American, Australian, and European missionaries.
“Nonetheless, we believe that coercion and exploitation have no place in matters of any religion,” Shukla said.
The US State Department said it supports religious tolerance and freedom around the world, including in India.
“I can say broadly that, certainly, religious tolerance and freedom is something that we support around the world, including in India,” the State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters when asked about Modi’s speech on religious freedom.