Right to Freedom of Religion

Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25 to 28)

It is a paradox that while almost every religion stands for and preaches the universal brotherhood of man; religion has been a constant source of conflict in human history. The idea of guaranteed fundamental rights itself was a device directed towards the avoidance of such a contingency. The right to freedom of speech and expression, and the right to form associations and unions are also rights which guarantee religious speech and expression and the right to form religious associations and unions. But the Constituent Assembly was not satisfied with such provisions alone in its bid to infuse complete confidence in the religious minorities. It went a step further and adopted a separate group of articles dealing solely with the right of freedom of religion. The freedoms provided in Articles 25, 26, 27, and 28 are conceived in most generous terms to the complete satisfaction of religious minorities.

 

Article 26, is in fact, a corollary to Article 25 and guarantees the freedom to manage religious affairs. According to this, every religious denomination is given 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 provides an additional protection to religious activity by exempting funds appropriated towards the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion from the payment of taxes.

 

It further may be noted that the provisions of the Indian Constitution regarding the right to religious liberty cover all the freedoms relating to religion set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris, on December 10, 1948. This document states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of though, conscience and religion, this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Since the UN General Assembly has proclaimed this Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, Indians may well be proud that at least in the matter of religious freedom their Constitution represents a world ideal.

 

WHAT ARE THE RESTRICTIONS ON THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION?

Although the freedom of religion guaranteed by Article 25 of Indian Constitution is wide in scope, it is far from being absolute. It is subject to public order, morality and health, and to the other provision of Part III of the Constitution Article 25(1). This freedom also shall not 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 activity which may be associated with religious practice, and
  • regulating for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.

 

Other provisions related to Secularism

In conformity with the principle of the Secular State, the Constitution of India establishes a single common citizenship. The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them Article 15(1). In particular, no citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, restriction or condition with regard to : (a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment, or (b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public Article 15 (2). The educational facilities provided by the State are to be enjoyed equally by all the citizens. No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution funded by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caster, language or any of them [Article 29 (2)].

 

Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29 and 30)

Under Article 29 and 30, certain cultural and educational rights are guaranteed. Section (1) of Article 29, guarantees the right of any section of the citizen residing in any part of the country having a distinct language, script or culture of its own, to conserve the same. Section (2) prohibits any discrimination based only on religion, race, caste, language or any of them in the matter of admission to State or State-aided educational institutions.

 

Section (1) of Article 30 provides that “all minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice”. According to section (2) the State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of minority community, whether based on religion or language.

 

Article 30 is a charter of educational rights. It guarantees in absolute terms the right of linguistic and religious minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and, at the same time, claim grants-in-aid without any discrimination based upon religion or language. The fact that the Constitution does not impose any express restriction in the scope of the enjoyment of this right, unlike most of the rights included in the chapter on Fundamental Rights, shows that the framers intended to make its scope unfettered. This does not, however, mean that the State cannot impose reasonable restrictions of the regulatory character for maintaining standards of education. This point has been made abundantly clear in judicial pronouncements.

 

Special significance of Religious, Educational and Cultural Rights

Taking the right guaranteed under religious, educational and cultural fields as a whole, it must be noted that these are couched in the most comprehensive language, and the maximum possible freedom is guaranteed to the minorities, religious and linguistic. The special significance of these provisions is that while the impact of other rights in Part-III of the Constitu- tion is on the people of India as a whole, irrespective of religion, caste, race, or language, that of these rights is only on the minorities. The democratic basis of the Constitution would be lost if the minorities were not given adequate protection to preserve their religious believes, and institutions of education and culture, the Constitution may then be branded as an instrument for the furtherance of the majority community and the language of the majority. Naturally, resentment against such a position would manifest all over the country. Moreover, such a position would have discredited the foundation of the national movement against foreign rule, in which every religious and linguistic minority in India was represented and solemn promises had been made by representative of the majority community to safeguard the legitimate interests of the minorities against all forms of tyranny in a free India.

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