Notre Dame Law Students defend religious minorities in Nepal

Author: Michelle McDaniel

Prayer At A Christian Healing Festival In Bhaktapur

This past winter, third-year law students Andrew Scarafile and Daisy An and second-year law student Huan Nguyen worked alongside pre-eminent scholar and human rights attorney Mark Hill KC as part of a parliamentary delegation exploring the state of religious liberty in Nepal in partnership with Bellwether International.

The Nepalese Constitution nominally protects religious liberty, but bans on proselytization still exist. Local police and lower courts often misinterpret laws to punish religious individuals for living out their faith.

The student fellows met with members of Parliament and the UK Ambassador to Nepal. And the delegation also met with high-ranking government leaders, including the former Minister of Justice, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Human Rights, and the Attorney General.

“The students had the chance to work alongside top-ranking government officials in the UK as they advanced religious freedom issues globally and in Nepal. They were also able to see how high the stakes can be in countries where basic freedoms are denied,” said Professor Stephanie Barclay, who oversaw this project.

The delegation also met with and learned about Christian and Muslim religious leaders currently imprisoned for sharing their beliefs, including one preparing a legal filing for his case at the Supreme Court of Nepal. These religious leaders face harassment, arrest, conviction, and jail time for simple acts like posting a prayer on YouTube. One pastor was convicted of violating a proselytization ban because he posted a picture of himself holding scriptures on Facebook and also posted prayers online.

"Working on Pastor Acharya's case was the most fulfilling experience I have had with the Religious Liberty Initiative,” said Nguyen. “Sharing the Gospel is central to the expression of the Christian faith, and I am proud of the role I had in protecting the pastor's freedom to do so.”

Our student fellows worked with the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief to draft a report that was submitted to the United Kingdom Parliament. This report will ultimately be shared with the government of Nepal to assist Nepal in ensuring that religious freedom is fully respected throughout the country.

“Working on the Nepal case was one of the most impactful experiences of law school for me. It was eye-opening to see how different countries provide such a lower level of protection for free exercise outside of the United States,” said Scarafile. “I was very grateful for the opportunity to contribute my work on such an important case with such high stakes.”

Members of the Order of St. Thomas More invest in the next generation of Notre Dame lawyers, allowing them to develop exceptional moral and ethical standards, as well as extraordinary ability, through experiential learning opportunities like these. Learn more about how Notre Dame Law Students are working to defend religious freedom around the world ›