Delhi High Court upholds the right to engage in missionary activities

Dr Christo Thomas Philip worked in a Bihar hospital. In 2016 he was stopped at New Delhi’s airport and deported to Istanbul. For Mgr Mascarenhas, “everyone has the right to freely practice their faith”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In a decision that will likely prove controversial, the Delhi High Court issued a ruling that protects the right to engage in missionary activities in India.

The case concerns a Christian medical doctor, Christo Thomas Philip, an American citizen of Indian origin. In 2016 Indian authorities cancelled his visa to work in a Protestant hospital in Bihar.

“India is a secular country,” writes the court. “All persons in this country have a right to practice their faith in the manner they consider fit so long as it does not offend any other person. If Dr Christo’s faith motivates him to volunteer for medical services at a hospital, he is free to do so. There is no such law that stops him from doing so.”

For Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, this is great news. He is grateful to "the lawyers who followed the case. The court reiterated three important principles: the first is that everyone has the right to freely practice their faith; the second is the right to put into practice one’s faith through volunteering in social fields; and the third is that no Indian law bans this.”

The Christian doctor had the support of the ADF* India, an association that provides legal support to persecuted Christians.

Dr Philip’s case began on 26 April 2016 when he was stopped at Indira Gandhi International Airport on his way back from a medical conference in Greece, said AC Michael, ADF India’s development sector director. Customs officials told him that he could enter in India, and that he had to go back to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight since he had just arrived with that carrier.

However, after two days in jail, he went to Nepal, where he was joined by his family, so as to be closer to India and follow his court case.

He was not allowed into the country because his OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card had been cancelled. The card is given to people of Indian origin and provides a life long visa for visiting India. It is especially used by people working in the medical field.

Dr Christo was born in Kerala in 1982, and at the age of ten moved with his family to the United States. In 2011 he specialised in Emergency Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

In 2014 he returned to India to work at the Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, Bihar. In 2016, the Consulate General of India in Houston cancelled his visa because he had indulged in "evangelical and subversive" as well as “conversions activities” that affected public order.

According to Michael, the "Court has proved that government of the day had mala fide (bad faith) intention and was told to behave as per the law of the land. This judgement is very important for those who are going through difficult times practicing their faith freely.”

The High Court ruling orders the Home Affairs Ministry to re-instate Dr Philip’s visa, so that he can return to look after the sick.

* Alliance Defending Freedom