Churches oppose move to legislate its properties and educational institutions

    By TCN News,

    Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC), which is a state-level apex body of Archbishops/Bishops/Church Heads of the mainline Churches and major Christian Denominations representing the Christian Community in the State, protested strongly against any move to legislate upon Christian properties and educational institutions.

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    Through the G.O. Rt. No. 3696 dated 17-08-2013 of General Administration (Cabinet) Department the Government of A.P. has “constituted a Group of Ministers for examining the proposal for enacting a separate legislation to protect the properties of Christian missionaries and educational institutions.” In this connection,A.P. Federation of Churches (APFC) has submitted to the Govt. the official view regarding the enactment of legislation on Christian properties.

    According to a statement issued by Reverend Father Dr. Anthoniraj Thumma & Mr. B. Danam IAS (Retd) Executive Secretaries, (APFC) aftermuch reflection and due deliberation their organization has prepared a Position Paper titled: “Official Stand and Views of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches on enacting a Law for the Regulation of Church Properties”, Which is forwarded to Principal Secretary and secretary Minorities Welfare Department and the convener of GoM.

    According to APFC, in 2007 the Government of Andhra Pradesh has brought out draft Bills for the protection of Church Properties on the recommendation of the House Committee of the Legislative Assembly. The then Chief Minister Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (who himself was a Christian) dropped the Bills due to opposition from Andhra Pradesh Bishops’ Council (APBC) of the Roman Catholic Church and A.P. Federation of Churches (APFC), after pressure was brought upon from the Congress High Command.

    Again in 2011, the Central and State Governments sought the views of Bishops and leaders of the Churches with a view to enact a Central legislation. “Official Stand and Views of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches on enacting a Law for the Regulation of Church Properties” was sent to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, other Central Ministers concerned and Government Agencies.

    In the meantime, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) and the A.P. State Minorities Commission (APSMC) has supported the stand of the Churches for not having a Government Board / Council for Christian properties.

    APFC has also submitted to present Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy through letter dated 15-12-2011 and the stamp of acknowledgement of receipt was obtained in the Office of the Chief Minister on 23-12-2011, the stand of Churches and National and State Minorities commission.

    APFC claimed they failed to understand why state Govt. is adamant in introducing the bill while “The Centre has given up the move, one wonders why our State Government is still persisting to impose its control on the administration of Church properties and Christian Educational Institutions.”

    In 2012, against the recommendations of its own Advisory Council consisting of Bishops and Church Heads (others are only invitees) and the views and appeal of APFC, the Andhra Pradesh State Christian (Minorities) Corporation (APSCMFC) wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Land Administration (CCLA) and the Commissioner and Inspector General of Registration and Stamps asking them to issue order requiring NOC to sell or register Church properties. These Orders however were suspended by the High Court of A.P. in the case WP: 22439 of 2012 in its Judgment dated 24-07-2012 on the basis of Article 26 giving right to the Minorities to administer their properties.

    Despite all these APFC wonder why at this point of time, the Government of A.P. has constituted a Group of Ministers knowing that the Churches are strongly opposed to the enactment of any legislation on Christian properties. APFC stated “The demand of some individual Christians for enacting legislation on Church properties on the pretext of a few incidents of mismanagement is not at all justified since recourse can be had to the existing Courts to redress their grievances.”

    To boost their case APFC made a legal argument that, “Most of the Church bodies and Educational Institutions are registered Societies / Trusts which are already governed by the A.P. Registration of Societies Act, Indian Trust Act and Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and Rules framed there under. Therefore, any new law in this regard would be only be superfluous and may contradict the existing laws, thus creating more confusion. Besides, many of the Churches are also international organizations and posses their own self-regulating mechanisms with regard to the management of finances and properties. Unlike the Hindu Endowments and Muslim Wakfs, the properties of the Churches are private in nature since most of them are not gifted but bought with the monies of the Churches.”

    APFC has humbly requested the Govt. to give due weight to the views of the organization headed by Archbishops / Bishops as it legitimately represents the Churches and Christian Community of the State. APFC asserts, “Individual Christians, even if they happen to be MLAs or holding any other high position, cannot claim to represent the Christian Community. The APFC opposes government legislation on Church properties and any form of government control over the properties of Christian Educational Institutions. As you are aware, formation of any sort of Board / Council for Christians by the Government with a view to regulate or exercise control over their affairs would only go against Articles 26-30 of our Constitution.”

    APFC expressed gratitude to the Government of A.P. for their concern for safeguarding the Church properties; but requested them to consider seriously the views of the APFC on the matter and not to proceed further without consulting the Archbishops / Bishops and taking them into confidence. Now as the GoM on Christian properties has been constituted without they asking for it, APFC requested Govt. to obtain their views by arranging a meeting with them.