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Right to Freedom of Religion in India

Religion is a matter of belief or faith. The Constitution of India recognises how important religion is in India’s lives and hence, provides for the right to freedom of religion under Articles 25 to Article 28. The Indian Constitution predicts a secular model and provides that every person has the right and freedom to choose and practice their choice of religion.

In several cases, the Apex Court held that secularism is the basic structure of the Constitution, the most important instance is the Kesavananda Bharati vs the State of Kerala case. People in India mainly practice religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Christianity. In India, there are religion-specific laws where Goa is the only state to have a Uniform Civil Code known as the Goa Civil Code. The Constitution supports religious harmony and thus, the people of India show love and affection to different religions of the country.

What is Secularism?

The word ‘secularism’ means separate from religion. It means developing, understanding and respecting different religions.

In the Ayodhya case, it was held by the apex court that the Constitution postulates equality of all faiths. Through tolerance and mutual co-existence, the secular commitment of our country and its people can be nurtured.

  • It entails the separation of religion from the government, social, economic, and cultural aspects of life.
  • Here religion is an entirely personal matter.
  • India is a secular country with no particular religion of a state.
  • However, it also means that there is equal respect for all religions and faiths.
  • The word is also a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution which was added through the 42nd Amendment of the Indian Constitution.
  • This concept enjoys a high position in the Indian democracy.
  • Secularism has also been an undeniable part of the Indian culture as seen by the variety of faiths that have co-existed in this country for centuries.
  • All religious groups in India have the same powers without being discriminated against.

Constitutional Provisions relating to Right of Religion

Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion not only to individuals but also to religious groups in India. This is provided under Articles 25 to 28.

Article 25 (Freedom of conscience and freedom to profess, practise, and propagation of religion)

Article 25 ensures the freedom of conscience, the freedom to profess, practise, and propagate religion to all the citizens of the country.

  • These freedoms are subject to public order, health, and morality.
  • This article also provides a provision that the State can make laws:
    • That regulates and restricts any financial, economic, political, or any other secular activity related to any religious practices.
    • That provides for the social welfare and reform of Hindu religious organisations of a public character to all sections of Hindus. Under this provision, Hindus are seen as including the people professing the Sikh, Jain, or Buddhist religions, and Hindu institutions shall also be construed accordingly.
  • Sikh people wearing & carrying the kirpan shall be considered as included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

The Supreme Court, in the case of Tilkayat Shri Govindlalji Maharaj vs the State of Rajasthan, held that the test to determine what an integral part of a religion is and whether it is regarded essential by the community following that religion or not.

Article 26 (Freedom to manage religious affairs)

Article 26 states that every religious denomination has the following rights, regarding morality, health, and public order.

  1. The right to form and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.
  2. The right to manage its own affairs regarding religion.
  3. The right to purchase the immovable and movable property.
  4. The right to manage such property according to the law.

The phrase ‘religious denomination’ is not defined under the constitution. The word ‘denomination’ came into consideration by the Supreme Court in the case of Commissioner, Hindu Religious endowment Madras vs Shri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Shri Shirur Mutt. In this case, the meaning of ‘denomination’ was searched out from the Oxford dictionary.

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

Article 27 of the Constitution provides freedom of taxes for the promotion of any particular religion. It states that no one can be forced to pay taxes, the proceeds of which are directly used for the promotion and/or maintenance of any particular religion/religious denomination.

In the case of Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras vs Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt, the Madras legislature enacted the Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act, 1951, and contributions were levied under the Act. It was contended by the petitioner that the contributions collected are taxes and not a fee and the state of madras is not competent to enact such a provision. It was held by the Supreme Court that though the contribution charged was tax but the purpose of it was for the proper administration of the religious institution.

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

Article 28 allows educational institutions maintained by religious groups to propagate religious instruction.

  • It provides that no religious instruction shall be provided in educational institutions administered by the State.
  • Educational institutions managed by the State but established under any trust which requires religious instruction to be imparted in such institutions are exempted from the above clause.
  • Any person who attends any educational institution recognized by the State or receiving State-aid is not required to participate or attend any religious instruction and worship unless he/she has provided consent for the same. In the case of minors, the guardians should give consent for the same.

In the case of D.A.V. College vs the State of Punjab, Section 4 of the Guru Nanak University (Amritsar) Act, 1969, was questioned for being violative of Article 28 of the Constitution. This section states that the state shall make provisions for the study of life and teachings of Guru Nanak Devji. The question was that the Guru Nanak University is wholly maintained out of state funds and Section 4 infringes Article 28. The court rejected this by stating that Section 4 provides for the academic study of the life and teachings of Guru Nanak and this cannot be considered as religious instruction.