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Baha'i sect stiffed in Egypt constitution

CAIRO, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Leaders of the Baha'i faith in Egypt say the wording of the proposed new constitution leaves them out in the cold.

A spokesman for the Baha'i community said the provisions on religious freedom and the establishment of churches extend only to sanctioned religions, which appears to not include their minority faith.

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"This constitutional article...restricts the religious rights of its own people," Raouf Hendy told the Egypt Independent. "This is not the role of the state."

Article 37 of the draft constitution stipulates the state will guarantee the right of "heavenly religions" to build houses of worship. The term "heavenly faith," however, applies only to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which appears to leave minority sects outside constitutional protections.

Some legal scholars in Egypt see Article 37 as flawed in that it allows minority faiths, including Copts and Baha'i, to follow their faith but not to have their own houses of worship.

There are also concerns that leaving some faiths without "heavenly" status opens a door to the potential sanctioning of discrimination by the government.

"The constitution clearly states that my religion is not 'heavenly,' hence does not acknowledge it," Hendy said. "What messages does this send to the Egyptian public? It simply tells them that Baha'is are not equal citizens."

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