Is India’s new citizenship law friendly toward religious liberty?

April 16, 2020

India’s capital of New Delhi and regions throughout the country were rocked in recent months by religious violence and rioting. The rioting left over 40 people dead with property damage and devastation common throughout the rest of the country. The cause of this violence in the world’s largest democracy was the new law entitled the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was ostensibly meant to deal with immigration questions. 

However, the new law, signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec. 11, 2019, created a religious test for those to whom it applied, and was but one step toward destroying India’s position as a secular, pluralist country, and instead establishing it as a Hindu nation. The CAA, though clothed in the language of protecting religious minorities, is in reality an affront to religious liberty and tramples the rights of conscience for hundreds of millions of India’s Muslim citizens. 


The CAA creates an expedited pathway for immigrants who entered the country illegally to become citizens so long as they meet a number of qualifications. First, they must have entered the country before 2015 from one of three countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan), and they must belong to one of six religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism. The government has claimed that they are seeking to offer a place for these religious minorities to have an expedited path because there are already Muslim countries in the area, so there is no need for them to be included. 

The law itself is the outgrowth of a citizenship register currently being implemented in the Indian state of Assam where individuals had to prove that they were citizens or had entered the country prior to India’s founding in 1947. This citizenship register led to some 2 million individuals who had lived in the country for generations (many of them Muslim) being left off the list because the records were incomplete or found to be unsatisfactory.

Protecting religious minorities

Christians should be grateful for laws that protect religious minorities. However, the CAA is a law which purports to do one thing and does another. It claims to protect religious minorities, but it does so at the expense of the largest minority religious group in India: Muslims. Roughly 80% of those living in India are Hindu, with another 14% (approximately 200 million people, or 2/3 of the population of the United States) practicing Islam. The remainder is split between the religious groups represented by the CAA. 

It is no surprise that this law overlooks Muslims. Modi’s political party is well-known for their desire to create a Hindu nation-state. Further, Modi himself is no stranger to claims of religious liberty transgressions. He was banned from entering the U.S. on religious freedom grounds for almost a decade following riots in 2002 in the Gujaret region that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. The CAA is just one more instance where Modi’s policies of disenfranchising or marginalizing Muslims within India have been implemented. 

The right to worship and believe in accordance to conscience is one given to us by God. No state can compel faith, and no government has authority to stand before Christ on our behalf.

If the CAA is meant to be a protection of religious minorities, it would include Muslims. Noticeably absent from the list of countries are two neighboring countries of India which have a minority Muslim population: Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Further, in dealing with the violence that broke out after the law passed, Muslim villages and homes were often targeted by roaming mobs, with no protection offered by police. In fact, there is precedent for the Muslim citizens to lose their property because of the actions of others. A recent case before the Indian Supreme Court vacated a previous judgment and ruled that a Hindu temple could be built over the remains of a mosque after a mob destroyed it. Once again, Modi and his government sided with the Hindu nationalists, rather than the rights of all its citizens. 

Trampling the rights of conscience

Christians and other religious individuals in America enjoy the freedom of religion and the guarantee that the government won’t penalize someone for their faith. This is a right guaranteed by our constitution. It is also a right guaranteed by the Constitution of India. The CAA is but one salvo in the attack by those who seek to create a Hindu state. And while it may be an attack on Muslims at this time, the law could have just as easily excluded Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, or Christians. A state which can set a religious test on one group can do so on any other group. This is why Christians in India and throughout the world should recognize the right to conscience freedom for all individuals, no matter their religious beliefs. 

Within India, the law has been challenged in courts because opponents argue it is unconstitutional, and the heads of several Indian states have said they will refuse to enforce the law, creating a stand-off between state and federal governments. Opposition is not confined to India, though it has been strongest there because of the rioting and violence. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, have both expressed alarm at the law.

The world’s oldest democracy should remind the world’s largest democracy that the government does not have authority over the conscience of its citizens. Christians in America should follow the lead of USCIRF and Brownback and decry this law. A government cannot compel belief, and it should not impose a religious test because to do so will only prompt inauthentic belief and pseudo-faith. The CAA is a rejection of the vibrant pluralism that has been essential to Indian identity and a return to a time of religious preference for special classes of individuals and dehumanization for others.

Christians should stand up for the rights of religious minorities wherever they are found, whether it be Uyghur Muslims in China, Coptic Christians in Syria, or Muslims in India. The right to worship and believe in accordance to conscience is one given to us by God. No state can compel faith, and no government has authority to stand before Christ on our behalf. Therefore, evangelical Christians, especially as those who recognize the need for an uncoerced decision as essential to faith, should stand against any law which seeks to impose a religious belief or religious test. Christians must confront a government which seeks to insert itself into the most personal decision a person can make: how they will worship God. This is something no government, whether Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian, has the right to do, and which people of all faiths must fight. 

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24