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Right to Freedom of Religion

Right to Freedom of Religion

Religion plays a significant role in the lives of people in India, and the country’s constitution acknowledges this by safeguarding the right to religious freedom, as outlined in Articles 25 to 28. India’s constitution promotes a secular model, ensuring that every individual has the freedom to choose and practice their religion. The courts, most notably in the Kesavananda Bharati case, have affirmed that secularism is a fundamental aspect of the Constitution. India’s diverse population follows various religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Christianity. It’s worth noting that India has specific laws related to different religions, with Goa being the only state to have a Uniform Civil Code, known as the Goa Civil Code. The Constitution of India encourages religious harmony, promoting love and respect for the various religions present in the country.

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What is Secularism?

Secularism, in simple terms, refers to the development, understanding, and respect for different religions. Its roots can be traced back to late medieval Europe. During the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly in 1948, there was a proposal by KT Shah to include the word ‘Secular‘ in the Preamble of the Constitution. While the assembly members agreed on the secular nature of the constitution, it wasn’t formally added to the Preamble at that time. It wasn’t until 1976 that the word ‘Secular’ was officially included in the Preamble through the 42nd Amendment Act, often referred to as the ‘Mini Constitution.’ This act is considered one of the most comprehensive amendments to the Constitution.

Constitutional Provisions relating to Right of Religion

  • Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
  • Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs.
  • Article 27: Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.
  • Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.

What is religion?

  • Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, described religion as the acknowledgment of our obligations as coming from a divine source. According to Milton Yinger, an American sociologist, religion is a set of beliefs and rituals that a community uses to grapple with life’s most profound questions.
  • Interestingly, our constitution doesn’t offer a specific definition for the terms ‘religion‘ and ‘matters of religion.’ Instead, it’s up to the Supreme Court to establish their legal interpretations.

What are the Major Judicial Pronouncements on Freedom of Religion

Bijoe Emmanuel and Ors. v. State of Kerala (1986):

In this case, three students from the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect were suspended from school for refusing to sing the national anthem, citing religious beliefs. The court ruled that their expulsion violated fundamental rights and their freedom of religion.

Acharya Jagdishwaranand v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (1983):

The court determined that Ananda Marga was a religious denomination rather than a separate religion. It also clarified that public street performances of Tandava were not an essential practice of Ananda Marga.

M. Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India (1994):

The apex court ruled that mosques were not an essential practice of Islam, and Muslims could offer prayers (namaz) anywhere, even in the open.

Raja Birakishore v. State of Orissa (1964):

This case involved a challenge to the Jagannath Temple Act, 1954, which aimed to manage the affairs of the Puri temple. The court concluded that the Act only regulated the secular aspects of seva puja, and thus, it did not violate Article 26 of the Constitution.

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