What is Right to Freedom of Religion under Indian Constitution?

3 Jul 2023  Read 6452 Views

Right to religion in India has always been debated due to its clash with other fundamental rights, social & political factors, legal ambiguities, etc. But one thing is clear: the right to freedom of religion holds immense importance in our country. It is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, protected under Articles 25 to 28 of the Indian Constitution, for all citizens.

Let’s discuss the right to religion in detail in this article which will include constitutional provisions, articles with examples, riots related to religion in India and landmark cases.

Right to Religion in India

Let’s understand some key aspects of the right to religion in India before digging into the articles on the right to religion individually:

  1. Freedom of conscience: Every person has the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate any religion of their choice, including the freedom to have or adopt a religious belief or disbelief without the state’s interference or of others.

  2. Equality of all religions: The Indian Constitution promotes secularism and prohibits religious discrimination. All religions are considered equal, and the state cannot favour or discriminate against any particular religion.

  3. Freedom of worship: Every person has the right to worship or offer prayers at any place of worship, be it a temple, mosque, church, gurudwara, or any other religious institution. A state cannot control or restrict these religious practices unless they are considered against public order.

  4. Regulation of religious affairs: The state has the authority to regulate and manage religious institutions, such as temples, mosques, and churches, to ensure proper administration & prevent misuse but in accordance with the law and should not interfere with religious practices.

  5. Freedom from forced conversions: While individuals can propagate their religion, forced conversions are not allowed. Coercion, inducement, or fraud to convert someone's religion is considered an infringement of the right to religion.

  6. Cultural and educational rights: Religious and linguistic minorities in India have the right to conserve their distinct language, script, and culture. They also have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice

However, it is important to note that the right to religion is not absolute and is subject to certain reasonable restrictions in the interest of public order, morality, and health.

Articles on Freedom of Religion under Constitution

1. Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion)

Article 25 under the Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate religion to all citizens.

  • These freedoms under Article 25 are subject to public order, health, and morality.

  • This article also provides a provision that the State can make laws:

  1. That regulates & restricts any financial, economic, political, or other secular activity connected with any religious practice.

  2. That provides for the social welfare & reform or opening up of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all sections of Hindus. Under this, Hindus include the people professing the Sikh, Jain, or Buddhist religions, and Hindu institutions shall also be construed accordingly. Even people of the Sikh faith wearing & carrying the kirpan shall be considered included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

Say, for example, the Right to Celebrate Festivals- Article 25 ensures that individuals can celebrate religious festivals & carry out religious practices without hindrance. One such festival widely celebrated in India is Diwali, the festival of lights.

2. Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs)

This Article provides that every religious denomination has the following rights, subject to morality, health, and public order.

  • The right to form and maintain institutions for religious and charitable intents.

  • The right to manage its own affairs in the matter of religion.

  • The right to acquire immovable and movable property.

  • The right to administer such property according to the law.

Example: The Sikh Gurdwara Act

The Sikh Gurdwara Act of 1925 relates to Article 26 of the Indian Constitution as it was enacted to provide for the better administration and governance of gurdwaras in India.

Under the Sikh Gurdwara Act, a statutory body known as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) was established to manage & administer several gurdwaras and Sikh religious institutions. This Act recognises the Sikh community as a religious denomination and allows them to exercise their right to manage their religious affairs independently..

3. Article 27 (Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion)

This article states that there can be no taxes, the proceeds of which are directly used for the promotion and/or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination.

4. Article 28 (Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions)

This article permits educational institutions that religious groups maintain to spread religious instruction.

  • This states that no religious instruction shall be provided in State-run educational institutions.

  • Educational institutions administered by the State but established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction be imparted in such institutions are exempt from the above clause (that no religious instruction shall be provided).

  • Any person who attends any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving State aid must not be needed to participate in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institutions or attend any religious worship in such institutions unless he/she has given consent. In the case of minors, the guardians should have given consent for the same.

  • Examples based on these clauses (consecutively) are : 

Examples: (1) A government-funded primary school in India cannot have religious prayers or religious teachings as part of its curriculum. The school must maintain a secular environment & refrain from promoting any specific religion. 

(2) A student attending a government school in India may choose to receive religious instruction at a place of worship, like a temple, mosque, church, or gurdwara, outside of school hours. The school cannot interfere with this choice or compel religious instruction.

(3) A private school in India, which receives partial funding from the government or is completely self-financed, may offer religious instruction as an optional subject. However, it must ensure that students or their parents have the freedom to decide whether to attend these classes or not, and no student should be compelled to receive it against their will.

Now that you have read the articles let’s move on to the meaning of secularism. 

What is Secularism?

India is a secular country with no state religion. The word ‘secularism’ means separate from religion. This concept focuses on the separation of religion from the government along with social, economic, and cultural aspects of life as religion is an entirely personal matter. The word is also a part of the “Basic Structure of the Constitution” because the 42nd Amendment added it to the Indian Constitution.

Which riots are related to religion in India?

There have been several protests in India concerning the right to religion. Here are some notable protests held in India regarding the right to religion:

  1. Babri Masjid Demolition Protests (1992): Following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, by a Hindu nationalist mob, severe protests broke out in the country. Both the communities, Hindus and Muslims, expressed their concerns regarding the incident.

  2. Godhra Riots and Gujarat Protests (2002): After a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire in Godhra, Gujarat, communal riots broke out in several parts of the state, and protests were held condemning the violence and demanding justice for the victims.

  3. Anti-Sikh Riots Protests (1984): In response to the assassination of the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, widespread anti-Sikh riots occurred in Delhi and other parts of India. Protests demanding justice for the victims and ending religious violence were held across India.

  4. Protest against Forced Conversions (2020): Several protests were organised by Hindu nationalist groups and individuals alleging forced conversions of Hindus to other religions. They demanded stricter laws & regulations to prevent forced conversions.

  5. Shah Bano Case Protests (1986): The Supreme Court's judgment in the Shah Bano case, which granted maintenance rights to a Muslim woman divorced by her husband, led to protests by conservative Muslim groups who took it as a major interference in their personal laws.

  6. Delhi Riots (Protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)) (2020): The CAA, passed by the Indian government, led to widespread protests nationwide. Protesters expressed concerns about excluding Muslims from the law on acquiring citizenship and perceived it as discriminatory based on religion.

Landmark Cases on the Right to Religion

  1. S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994): In this case, the Supreme Court of India focused on the importance of secularism in the Indian Constitution. The court held that secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution and declared that any action diminishing secularism would be unconstitutional.

  2. Durgah Committee, Ajmer v. Syed Hussain Ali (1961): The Supreme Court held that the management and administration of religious institutions, like mosques and dargahs, are subject to the secular laws of the country, and the religious practices violating public order, health, or morality can be regulated by the state.

  3. Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar (1954): The Supreme Court herein recognised that the state has the power to interfere in the administration of religious institutions to ensure their proper functioning & prevent mismanagement or misuse of funds.

  4. Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin v. State of Bombay (1962): The Supreme Court talked about the issue of whether the state can intervene in the religious practices of a particular community & that the state cannot interfere in matters of religion unless such practices are deemed to be social evils.

  5. Sabarimala Temple Entry Case (2018): One of the most famous cases which dealt with the issue of the ban on the entry of women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. It also iterated that the ban was discriminatory and violated the fundamental rights of women, so it highlighted the principle of equality and women's right to worship.

  6. Mohd. Hanif Qureshi v. State of Bihar (1959): This case emphasised the issue of animal sacrifice in religious rituals. The Supreme Court held that the state can regulate animal sacrifice if it is cruel or inhumane.

  7. Shayara Bano v. Union of India (Triple Talaq Case) (2017): The Supreme Court declared the practice of instant triple talaq (talaq-e-biddat) unconstitutional, stating that it violated the fundamental rights of Muslim women, thus stressing gender equality and the right to dignity.

Conclusion

The right to religion is a significant aspect of India's constitutional framework which plays a crucial role in the country's competitive exams. Questions concerning religious freedom and its constitutional provisions often appear in most of the exams, like the Civil Services Examination (UPSC), State Public Service Commissions (PSC), etc. Even questions testing candidates' knowledge of secularism & its significance are commonly included in competitive exams. 

Which competitive exam are you preparing for and did you find this article helpful?

Comment below! 😄

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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