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Right to Freedom of Religion in India (Articles 25-28)

  • Last Updated : 13 Apr, 2022

A secular state means it should remain silent on religious matters. It is an ancient doctrine in India that the State protects all religions but interferes with none. The Supreme Court explaining the secular character has said, “There is no spiritual truth in the secular character of the State.” Secularism makes God offset from the matters of the State and clarifies that no one should be treated differently on the ground of religion. The State does have not its own religion.

Right to freedom of religion means Secularism. Secularism is in the Preamble of the Constitution and it secures all its citizen’s liberty of thought, belief, faith, and worship. By the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution, the word “secular” has been inserted in the Preamble of the Constitution. However, even without this amendment, secularism was an inherent nature of the Indian Constitution. In a Secular State, the State is concerned with the relation of man to man only and not with the relation between man and God. 

In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India (1994 SC), the Supreme Court has held that secularism is a basic feature.

In M. Ismail Faruqui v. Union of India (1994 SC), popularly called the Ayodhya Case the Supreme Court after a detailed discussion has summarised the true concept of secularism under the Constitution. There is no religion in the State. Secularism is widely described in Articles 25 to 28, and these articles protect the right to Freedom of Religion. The concept of secularism is like the nature of the right to equality.

Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion (Article25):

Article 25(1) provides “every person has the freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion”. This right is subject to public order, peace, morality, and health so it’s not an absolute right.

According to Article 25(1), a person has two-fold freedom:

a) freedom of conscience

b) freedom to profess religion, its practice, and propagation.

  • The freedom of conscience is the completely inherent freedom of the citizen to choose and produce his own relationship with God in whatever manner he likes.
  • To profess a religion means to declare with freedom one’s own religious thoughts, beliefs, etc.
  • To practice, religion means to perform essential religious duties, rights, or rituals. It signifies acts done in pursuance of religious beliefs.
  • To propagate means to spread one’s religious view to others. But, The right to propagate religion does not give a right to any person to convert another person’s religion by coercion or by any other illegal means.

Article 25 guarantees freedom of religion to every citizen and not only to a particular religion. There is no such right for an individual to convert another person’s religion by any means. It’s one’s own decision to choose religion. (Case: Rev. Stanislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1977 SC)

Some restrictions on the Freedom of Religion:

1. Freedom of religion is subject to public order morality and health:

No act can be done against public order, morality, and health of the public, in the name of religion. Also untouchability or traffic in human beings, e.g. system of Devadasis, etc.

Acharya Jagdishwaranand Avadhuta v. Commissioner of Police, Calcutta (popularly known as the Ananda Marga case, 1984 SC)

2. Regulating or restricting economic, financial, political, and secular activities related to religion:

Article 25(2) (a) clarifies that the freedom of practice extends only to those activities which are essential to maintain the dignity of religion.

3. Social Welfare and social reforms: 

Article 25 (2) (b) empowers the States to make laws for social welfare and social reform. Social immoral activities can’t be practiced in the name of god or in the name of religion. Under this sub-clause, the State is empowered to throw upon all Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. The right of Sikhs to carry Kirpans is recognized as a religious practice but this does not mean that a Sikh can keep any number of Kirpans. He is entitled to keep one only.

Freedom to Manage Religious Affairs (Article 26):

Article 26 has the following rights:

  1. To establish the institution and its maintenance for religious and trust purposes.
  2. To maintain and manage its own matters of religion.
  3. To own and acquire property whether movable or immovable.
  4. Administration of properties for religious activities with the provisions of law.

The right guaranteed by Article 25 is a right of an individual person while Article 26 guarantees the right of an organized body.

Bramchari Sidheswar Shai v. State of West Bengal (1995 SC). popularly known as the Ramakrishna Mission Case.

  • Right to freedom to establish and administration of Institutions for religious purposes:  Under Article 26(1)(a) every religious individual has the right to establish and maintain institutions for their religious purposes.
  • Right to manage matters of Religion: Under Article 26(1)(b) a religious organization or trust is free to manage its own religious matters. The State cannot interfere in the exercise of this right unless it does anything violative or illegal to public order, health or morality.
  • Right to administer property owned by denomination: Article 26 (1) (c)&(d) states religious denomination has the right to possession of the property and to administer such property in accordance with the law.

Freedom from Payments of Tax for the Promotion of any religion (Article 27):

Article 27 provides that a person cannot be forced for taxation on the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion. This Article shows the secularism of the State. The tax collected by the public in such a way cannot be spent by the state for the promotion of any particular religion.

India is a secular state and freedom of religion is guaranteed to individuals and also to groups. It is to be noted that what this Article prohibits is the levying of taxes and fees. Tax is a common binder and the only return that the taxpayer gets is a participation in the common benefits of the State.

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

According to Article 28(1), no religious instruction shall be provided in any such educational institution which is maintained and regulated by State funds.

Article 28 refers to four types of educational institutions:

  • a) Institutions completely maintained by the State,
  • b) Institutions recognized by the State,
  • c) Institutions that are receiving aid out from the State fund.
  • d) Institutions that are not established by the state but are administered by the State.
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