Jan 26, 2024

What Freedom of Religion Really Means 

The Constitution of India guarantees the freedom of religion as a fundamental right to each citizen under Articles 25-28. In this Weekly, let us examine what this freedom actually permits and where the Constitution draws a line and restricts this freedom. 

A 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

Every individual has a right to practice their religion and follow the rules that are laid down in it. This right should not, however, cause unrest in society or infringe on the well-being of others.
This Article also allows the government to regulate or restrict any activities that are being done in the name of religion but are not related to the core aspects of the religion.

In Acharya Jadishwaranand Avadhuta v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta, 1984 (Anand Marga Case), the Supreme Court held that the Tandava dance which the community of Anand Marga performs is not an essential part of the religion. So, an order can be passed for the prohibition of Tandava dance in public and it will not violate Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution.

Typically, the courts decide whether a particular activity is related to the core aspects of a religion on a case to case basis.

A 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs

Subject to public order, morality and health, every religion has the right to:
a) set up and maintain their institutions for religious and charitable purposes

b) manage its own religious affairs. 

c) own and acquire both movable and immovable property. However, the state has a right to regulate this property, if required.

d) administer the acquired property. Here, the state has a right to regulate the administration of the property. However, they cannot entirely take away the right of administration from a religious group. 

In N. Adithayan v. Travancore Devaswom Board, the appellant raised the question if non-Brahmins can be appointed as pujaris (priests) in a temple. The Supreme Court held that the Brahmins do not have a monopoly over performing puja (prayers) in a temple. The court also added that as long as they are well-versed with the job, non-Brahmins can also be appointed as pujaris. 

A27. Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion

Individuals should not be forced to contribute to the promotion or maintenance of any religion through taxes. This Article upholds the principle of religious neutrality. It prevents the use of public funds for advancing a particular religious belief or institution. It aims to preserve the secular nature of the Indian state. 

A28. Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

Government-funded public education institutions must remain secular and cannot provide religious teachings. In institutions that are not wholly state-funded, students have the right to choose whether or not they want to receive religious instruction. This Article aims to uphold the freedom of individuals to pursue their own religious beliefs or choose not to participate in religious activities.
Did you know that you can be punished for hurting religious sentiments?

Sections 295A and 298 of the IPC prohibit any speech or expression which can hurt the religious sentiments of a person or degrade their religion. Section 153A and 153B of the IPC also prohibit speech and expression which marginalises any religious or other identity group by either promoting enmity against it or claiming that the persons of that group are not equal citizens of India.

What is the punishment for disturbing religious assembly?

The law punishes anyone who voluntarily disturbs a gathering of people who are lawfully performing religious worship or religious ceremonies. The punishment is imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine. For example, you cannot construct a structure that blocks traffic on roads and free use of footpaths to perform a religious ceremony, without due permissions.

What does the law say about the use of loudspeakers during religious festivals?

The State Government may permit the use of loudspeakers, public address systems, etc. during night hours (between 10.00 p.m. to 12.00 midnight) during cultural or religious occasions. The State Government can notify days on which using such equipment or instruments will not be considered as noise pollution. However, the Government can include only a maximum of 15 days in a year. For example, the Government may allow the use of loudspeakers during festivals like Diwali, Onam, Pongal, etc.

Click here to read about filing a Noise Pollution complaint.

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