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Right to Freedom of Religion

Religion is an important part of human life. Religion is an essential factor in determining people's conduct and behaviour, particularly in Indian civilization. India is a diverse country in terms of caste, ethnicity, religion, and creed. In terms of exercising, one's religious beliefs, India is impartial, neutral, and unbiased. Our Indian Constitution guarantees that no citizen will be denied the ability to practice and publicly declare their faith.

Enshrined in these constitutional articles is the State's policy of keeping a "principled distance" from religion. It cannot have a personal religion. Every belief ought to be treated equally. This does not forbid the State from acting when religious practice conflicts with the goals of the welfare state, which are to promote the integrated development of persons and communities, as well as public order, morality, health, and harmonious social order.

Religion is a subject of faith or belief. The preamble of the constitution, states that the people are determined to guarantee "liberty of thought, belief, faith, and worship" to all of the citizens, contains an implicit reference to secularism. The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion under Articles 25 to 28 because it acknowledges the significance of religion in the lives of Indians. Every person has the freedom and right to select and follow any religion they desire, according to the Indian Constitution, which also anticipates a secular society.

India is home to a large Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikhism, Jain, and Christian population. A secular state was never regarded as an atheistic or irreligious state in India. It just indicates that it is impartial regarding religious issues. In India, there is an old belief that the government protects all religions while interfering with none.[1]

What is Secularism?
Being secular involves developing tolerance, knowledge, and respect for various religions. Gandhiji stated, "The true meaning of secularism is Sarva Dharma Sambhav, meaning equal treatment and respect for all religions.". Our constitution's preamble makes it quite evident that as the state has no official religion, all religions are to be respected and safeguarded.

The Indira Gandhi administration's 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 saw the addition of the phrase secularism to the Constitution. Secularism guarantees that no one will face discrimination due to their religion and eliminates God from state affairs.[2]

The Supreme Court ruled in the well-known case of SR Bommai v. Union of India[3] (1918) that secularism is an integral element of the constitution and hence cannot be changed. It also noted that politics and religion are incompatible. Everyone is equal in a state and ought to be treated as such. Religion has no business being involved in state affairs. While everyone in India is entitled to the freedom of religion as a fundamental right, the State views religion, faith, and belief as irrelevant.
Constitutional Provisions:
  • Article 25: It imparts freedom of religion in India.
  • Article 26: It grants liberty over religious affairs.
  • Article 27: Freedom from Taxation for the Promotion of Any Particular Religion.
  • Article 28: Freedom of Religious Instruction in State-aided Institution.

Article 25 [Freedom of conscience as well as the freedom to practice, profess, or promote religion]
All citizens are guaranteed the freedom of conscience as well as the right to profess, practice, and spread their religion, according to Article 25(1). Subject to public order, morality, health, and other conditions, it stipulates that everyone in India:
  • equal right to freedom of conscience and
  • the freedom to freely profess, practice, and propagate their religion.
The total internal freedom of the citizen to shape his own relationship with God whichever he pleases is known as the freedom of "conscience." It is the right to publicly profess and practice one's religion when this freedom is expressed and represented externally.

To "practice" religion is to carry out the required religious ceremonies, rituals, and obligations as well as to demonstrate one's religious views and beliefs by actions that are prescribed by the religious organization one belongs.

To 'propagate' refers to spreading and making his religious beliefs known for the benefit of others. It denotes explanation and persuasion without the use of force. Article 25(1) gives the freedom to transmit or spread one's religion through an explanation of its principles, not the right to convert another person to one's own religion. Additionally, this article protects "freedom of conscience" for all citizens, not only those who practice a specific faith.

It additionally stipulates that this article will not override any current legislation and will not stop the state from enacting laws concerning:
  • the regulation or limitation of any financial, political, economic, or secular activity connected to religious practice
  • Providing reform and social welfare.
  • The establishment of public Hindu religious institutions open to all Hindu classes and groups.
A circular from the Directorate of Public Instructions mandated that all students in schools sing the national anthem in the case of Bijoe Emmanual v. State of Kerala[4]. Three young Christians who identify as "Jehova's witnesses" stood up politely each morning at their school when the national anthem was sung.

However, they refused to participate in the singing of the anthem because, their actions, went against the principles of their religious faith, which prevented them from participating in any rituals other than praying to their god, Jehova. Their refusal to perform the national anthem resulted in their expulsion from the school.

They contested the legality of their expulsion on the grounds that Article 25(1) violated their fundamental rights. The Supreme Court ruled that "if he was a genuine, conscientious, religious objection," no one may be forced to perform the national anthem. The children showed appropriate respect for the national anthem by standing up while it was being sung, and they did not transgress the fundamental rights outlined in Article 51 A of the constitution.

The petitioner in A.S. Narayana v. State of Andhra Pradesh[5], who is the chief priest of the venerable and historic Hindu temple at Tirumala Tirupati, also known as the Balaji Temple in north India, contested the constitutionality of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious and Endowments Act, which abolished the hereditary rights of archakas and other office holders.

He claimed that the act infringed upon his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion in Articles 25 and 26. The court determined that the Act was legitimate and did not violate Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution. A priest's inherited right to be appointed is not a necessary component of any religion or religious practice.

The Supreme Court of India ruled in Shayara Bano v. Union of India[6] that triple talaq is illegal because it is immediate and irreversible. Talaq-e-bidet is a type of talaq that is executed with three simultaneous pronouncements, such as "Talaq, Talaq, Talaq," or by one clear talaq statement, such as "I talaq you irrevocably."

Restrictions on Freedom of Religion:
  1. Religious liberty is subject to public health, morality, and order: No measures may be taken in the name of religion that would compromise public health, morality, or order. The Police Act's Section 34 forbids the killing of animals and the indecent display of one's body in public. The performance of religious rites cannot be used as justification for these acts. Similarly, it is unacceptable to allow untouchability or human trafficking in the name of religion.
  2. Regulation of Economic, financial, political and secular activities associated with religious practices [Clause(2)(a)]: The activities that constitute the core of religion are the only ones to which the right to practice it applies. Determining which activities are related to religious practice and which are secular, commercial, or political can be challenging at times.
  3. Social Welfare and Social Reforms [Clause (2)(b)]: The ability to enact laws for social welfare and reform rests with the State. Therefore, the state may abolish social customs and beliefs that obstruct the nation's advancement under this article. These laws have no bearing on any religion's core principles. This clause states that religion must give way in situations where social welfare and reform demands clash with religious beliefs. Religion cannot justify the practice of social evils.
Explanation 1: Right of Sikhs to wear and carry Kirpans: Explanation 1 of Article 25 recognizes the right of Sikhs to wear and carry kirpans as a religious practice. This does not allow him to possess kirpans over one. He's allowed to retain one sword. He needs a licence to carry more than one Kirpan.

Explanation 2: Hindu and Hindu religious institutions: According to Explanation 2 of Article 25, references to Hindus are to be interpreted as referring to those who practice Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism, and references to Hindu religious organizations are to be considered as such.

Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs)
Every religious denomination, or any portion of one, is granted the following rights under Article 26 (subject to public order, morality, and health):
  • Founding and supporting establishments for charity-based and religious objectives;
  • Managing its affairs with regard to religion;
  • Owning and acquiring property (movable and immovable);
  • Administrating the property in accordance with the law.

The Supreme Court ruled in Brahmachari Sidheswar Sahai v. State of WB[7], also referred to as the Ramakrishna mission case, that followers of Ramakrishna, who are a group of people and who adhere to a set of beliefs that are conducive to their spiritual well-being and who have organized themselves collectively and have a specific organization named Ramakrishna mission, can be regarded as a religious denomination within the Hindu religion because they meet the requirements for a religious denomination. As a result, they are eligible to claim the fundamental rights granted to them under Article 26 of the Constitution.

Right to initiate and safeguard organizations for charity-based and religious causes
Article 26 requires the terms "establish" and "maintain" to be read together, so the only institutions that may legitimately claim to be maintaining it are those that a religious denomination establishes. The Supreme Court of India ruled in Azeez Basha v. Union of India[8] that Aligarh University could not be allowed to continue because the Muslim minority did not find it. It was created in accordance with a statute that the parliament passed.

Right to manage 'matters of religion'
A religious denomination is allowed to conduct its own business in matters of faith under Article 26(b). The exercise of this cannot be restricted by the state unless doing so would be against morals, public health, or order. Because of this, any religious organization or denomination is allowed to choose whatever ceremonies and rites are necessary in order to uphold the core beliefs of their respective religions.

The Shri Jagannath Temple Act transferred the administration of the temple's secular operations from the raja of Puri to a committee established by the act, as was the case in Bira Kishore Dev v. State of Orissa[9]. Because the Act did not impact the religious aspect, the court upheld its validity.

Under clauses (c) and (d) of Article 26 a religious denomination has the right to acquire and own property and to administer such property in accordance with the law. The right to administer such property owned by a religious denomination is a limited right. The rights under these clauses are confined to the existing rights to administer its property where they had already been vested in a religious denomination.

Article 26 of the Constitution limits the rights granted by it; other provisions of Part III of the Constitution do not apply to the rights granted by Article 26.[10]

Article 27 (Freedom from taxation for the advancement of any particular faith)
A person cannot be forced to pay taxes intended to cover expenses related to the maintenance or promotion of any religion or religious sect, according to Article 27 of the Constitution.

The state is prohibited from using tax revenue for the purpose of promoting any one religion over another. According to the Supreme Court's ruling in Rati Lal v. State of Bombay[11], this article forbids the imposition of taxes rather than fees.

It was decided in Jagannath v. State of Orissa[12] that the levy imposed by the Orissa Hindu Religious Endowment Act, 1939 was more similar to a fee than a tax. The money was merely requested to cover the commissioner's and his office's overhead, which included setting up the necessary systems to properly manage the religious institution's operations. The contribution's goal was to ensure that religious institutions were run properly, not to promote or preserve Hinduism or the denomination within it.

The restriction is on supporting any one religion over another. This indicates that Article 27 will not apply if State funding is given to both religious and secular organisations equally and without prejudice.

Article 28 (Prohibition of religious instruction in the State-aided Institutions)
This article forbids:
  • Providing religious instruction in any school that receives all of its funding from the state.
  • The aforementioned will not apply to educational institutions run by the states that were founded on endowments or trusts that mandate the teaching of religion in those institutions.
  • Participation in religious teaching or attending workshops held on the campus of a state-recognized or state-funded educational institution is not mandatory for any person attending such an institution unless they have given their consent to do so.
Four categories of educational institutions are listed in Article 28:
  1. Establishments that the state maintains exclusively.
  2. Organizations that the state has acknowledged.
  3. Organizations that get funding from the state budget.
  4. Establishments that were founded under any trust or endowment but are managed by the state.
No religious instruction may be given in state-maintained institutions, without the permission of the residents of such institutions who are receiving aid from out-of-state funds and that the state recognizes. Religious instruction is not restricted to establishments that are run by the state and founded under any kind of trust or endowment.

In the case of DAV v. State of Punjab[13], the legality of Guru Nanak University's Section 4, which required the state to provide funding for the study and research of Guru Nayak's life and teachings, was contested on the grounds that it violated Article 28. The court dismissed the argument, ruling that provision 4, which required the institution to support scholarly research on the life and teachings of Guru Nanak, was constitutionally valid because it did not constitute religious instruction or the promotion of any specific religion.

When it comes to religious diversity, India is the most varied nation. It is a secular nation without a state religion, and any citizen is free to select, follow, spread, or even convert to another faith. These rights are still subject to some limitations imposed by the Constitution and are not absolute. No one may act against state policy or incite hatred or disruptions among India's population on the basis of their religious beliefs.

  • Constitutional Law of India, J.N. Pandey.
Online Websites:
  • accessed on 12th October 2023.
  • accessed on 12th October 2023.
  • accessed on 12th October 2023.
  • accessed on 12th October 2023.
  • accessed on 12th October 2023.
  • Vasudev v. Vamanji, ILR 1881 Bom. 80.
  • St. Xavier's College v. State of Gujarat, AIR 1974 SC 1389.
  • AIR 1994 SC 1918
  • (1986)3 SCC 615.
  • AIR 1996 SC 1765.
  • AIR 2017 SC 4609, 4801, 4832.
  • (1995)4SCC 646.
  • AIR 1968 SC 662.
  • AIR 1962 SC 853
  • Subramanian Swamy v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR 2015 SC 460 at p.466
  • AIR 1954 SC 388.
  • AIR 1954 SC 400
  • AIR 1971 SC 1731.

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