Right to freedom of religion
The 42nd amendment to the Indian Constitution, enacted in 1976, added the words “socialist” and “secular” to the Preamble. The concept of secularism in India is founded on the idea that the state should treat all religions equally and with respect, while also allowing individuals the freedom to practice and propagate their own religion. This is ensured through Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of conscience and religion and the right to profess, practice, and propagate one’s religion, subject to certain restrictions such as public order, morality, and health.
However, the state does have the power to regulate certain activities that may be associated with religious practices, as well as to provide for social welfare and reform and to open Hindu religious institutions of a public nature to all classes and sections of Hindu society. The state is also prohibited from giving religious instruction in any state-run educational institutions or imposing religious rituals on individuals.
In the landmark case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994), the Supreme Court of India held that secularism is a basic feature of the Indian Constitution and cannot be amended or altered. This means that the state is required to maintain a secular stance and not favor any particular religion over others.
Freedom of Religion and the State
While the Constitution guarantees the right to profess, practice, and propagate one’s religion, it does not allow for forced conversion of religion. In addition, certain practices that may be associated with a particular religion may not be permitted if they go against public order, morality, or health. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in Anand Marga Case (1984) that the practice of carrying lethal weapons and human skulls while performing the tandava dance was not protected under the freedom of religion. Similarly, the slaughter of cows on Bakr-id was ruled not to be an essential part of the Mohammadan religion in the case of Mohd. Hanif Quareshi v. State of Bihar (1958).
The state also has the power to make laws for social welfare and social reform, such as the prohibition of polygamy in the Hindu religion (State of Bombay v. Varasu Bapamali, 1953) and the prohibition of the Sati or Devadasi system (Saifuddin v. State of Bombay, 1963). However, the state must ensure that such laws do not infringe upon the fundamental rights of individuals or the autonomy of religious denominations.
Religious Institutions and Property
Article 26 of the Constitution gives every religious denomination or section thereof the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, manage its own affairs in matters of religion, own and acquire property, and administer such property in accordance with the law. However, this right is only granted to an “organised body” such as the Hindu body, the Sikh body, or the Muslim body. In the case of Azeez Bashu v. Union of India (1968) and St. Stephen’s College v. University of Delhi (1992), the Supreme Court ruled that the Aligarh Muslim University, being established by the law of the Parliament, was not maintained by the Muslim minority and therefore did not fall under the purview of Article 26.
The Supreme Court has also made it clear that the management of religious property is separate from the management of the affairs of the religion itself. In the case of Rati Lal v. State of Bombay (1954), the court held that the management of religious property is a fundamental right, but the management of the affairs of the religion is not.
Taxation and Religious Institutions
Article 27 of the Constitution prohibits the government from compelling any person to pay taxes that are specifically appropriated for the payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination. This means that individuals cannot be forced to pay taxes that would go towards the promotion or maintenance of a religion that they do not follow.
However, the state does have the power to levy taxes on religious institutions and property, as long as the taxes are not discriminatory and are imposed for the purpose of carrying out a public purpose. In the case of the Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Sri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of Sri Shirur Mutt (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that the state can impose a tax on the income of a religious institution if the tax is reasonable and non-discriminatory and serves a public purpose, such as the maintenance of public order or the provision of public services.
In conclusion, the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of conscience and religion, while also ensuring that the state remains secular and treats all religions equally. The state has the power to regulate certain activities associated with religious practices and to make laws for social welfare and reform, but it must ensure that such laws do not infringe upon the fundamental rights of individuals or the autonomy of religious denominations. The state also has the power to levy taxes on religious institutions and property, as long as the taxes are not discriminatory and serve a public purpose.
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