Speech on the freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Indian Constitution

Article 25 (1) guarantees to every person, and not only to the citizens of India, the freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion subject to public order, health, morality and other provisions of Part III of the Constitution, According to Article 25 (1) (a), the State is not prevented from making any law regulating and practicing any economic, financial, political or other secular activities which may be associated with religious practice.

Article 25 (1) (b) lays down that State may make any law providing for social welfare and reform or throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.

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The term, religion has not been defined in the Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, has defined it in a number of cases. The Supreme Court has held that religion is not necessarily theistic. There Eire well-known religions in India, like Buddhism and Jainism, which do not believe in God or in any other Intelligent First Clause.

Though religion is a matter of faith, yet it is not merely that but something more. A religion has undoubtedly its basis in a system of beliefs and doctrines, which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well-being, but it is something more than a doctrine or belief.

Thus, Article 25 (1) (a) provides a person to have two fold freedoms:

(a) Freedom of conscience,

(b) Freedom to profess, practice and propagate religion.

The freedom of conscience is absolute inner freedom of the citizen to mould his own relation with God in whatever manner he likes. When this freedom becomes articulated and expressed in outward form, it is “to profess and practice religion.

To profess religion means to declare freely and openly one’s faith and belief. He has a right to practice his belief by practical expression in any manner he likes. To practice religion is to perform the prescribed religious duties, rites and rituals, and to exhibit his religious beliefs and ideas by such acts as prescribed by religious order in which he believes.

To propagate means to spread and publicist his religious views for the edification of others. But the word, “propagation” only means persuasion and exposition without any element of coercion. The right to religion does not give a F7 right to convert any person to one’s own religion.

Article 25 guarantees “freedom of conscience” to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of any particular religion. In Rev. Stainislaus vs. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1977 S.C. 908, the Supreme Court has held that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person properly undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, as distinguished from his religion, that would impinge upon “the freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all citizens of the country alike.

The protection of Articles 25 and 26 is not limited to matters of doctrine or belief. It extends to acts done in pursuance of religion and therefore contains a guarantee of rituals and observances of ceremonies and modes of worship which are integral parts of religion.

What constitutes an essential part of religion or religious practice has to be decided by the courts with reference to a doctrine of particular religion and includes practices which are regarded by the community as part of its religion.

In National Anthem’s case, the Supreme Court held that no person can be compelled to sing National Anthem, “If he has genuine conscientious religious objection.”

Article 26 to the Constitution lays down that subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof, shall have the right:

(a) To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes:

(b) To manage its own affairs in matters of religion;

(c) To own and acquire movable and Immovable property; and

(d) To administer such property in accordance with law.

Article 27 of the Constitution provides that State shall not compel any citizen to pay any taxes for promotion or maintenance of any particular religious institution.

Article 28 lays down that no religious instruction shall be given in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State fund.

Restrictions on the Freedom of Religion:

The freedom of religion is subject to the following restrictions:

(1) Public order, morality and health:

Nothing can be done in the name of religion which will adversely affect public order, morality and health. In Ghulam Abbas v. State of U.P., (1984) 1 S.C.C. 81, Supreme Court has held that shifting of a property (grave) connected with religion to avoid clashes between two religious communities or sects is valid and does not affect religious rights being in the interest of public in general.

An order under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code prohibiting such a procession in the interest of public order and morality is not violative of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution.

(2) Regulation of Secular and Financial Activities:

Article 25 (2) (a) provides that nothing shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activities which may be connected with religious practice.

In Mohd. Hanif Quaresht vs. State of Bihar. AIR 1958 S.C. 731, it was held that slaughter of a cow on the day of Bakreed, was not an essential element of Muslim religion and hence could be prohibited by law.

(3) Social Reforms:

Article 25 (2) (b) provides that the State is empowered to pass a law providing for social welfare or social reforms or throwing open of religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.

Under Article 25 (2), State can eradicate social dogmas which stand in the way of country’s progress. In State of Bombay v. Narasu Appamali, AIR 1952 Bomb. 84, an Act which prohibited bigamy was held to be valid under Article 25 (2) (b). Thus, where there is a conflict between the social need and religious practice, religion must yield.

Hence, the freedom of religion is confined to only “matters of religion” and State can regulate secular and economic activities connected with religion.