constitution

Essential part or practices of a religion

The scope of Article 25 has been repeatedly interpreted by the Apex Court right from its leading judgment in Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. The State of Bombay [(1962)SUPP SCR 496] The said judgment holds that the protection of Article 25 and 26 extends to rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are intergral parts of religion. Thus, unless such ceremonies are found to be an integral part of religion, the protection under Article 25 cannot extended. The learned amicus curiae has relied upon the decision of the Commissioner of Police and Others v. Acharya Jagdishwarandanda Avadhuta and Anr [(2014)12 SCC 770]. In paragraph 9 of the said decision, the Apex Court observed thus :

“9. The protection guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution is not confined to matters of doctrine or belief but extends to acts done in pursuance of religion and, therefore, contains a guarantee for rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are essential or integral part of religion. What constitutes an integral or essential part of religion has to be determined with reference to its doctrines, practices, tenets, historical background etc. of the given religion.

What is meant by ‘an essential part or practices of a religion’ is now the matter for elucidation. Essential part of a religion means the core beliefs upon which a religion is founded. Essential practise means those practices that are fundamental to follow a religious belief. It is upon the cornerstone of essential parts or practices the superstructure of religion is built. Without which, a religion will be no religion. Test to determine whether a part or practise is essential to the religion is to find out whether the nature of religion will be changed without that part or practise. If the taking away of that part or practise could result in a fundamental change in the character of that religion or in its belief, then such part could be treated as an essential or integral part. There cannot be additions or subtractions to such part. Because it is the very essence of that religion and alterations will change its fundamental character. It is such permanent essential parts is what is protected by the Constitution. No body can say that essential part or practise of one’s religion has changed from a particular date or by an event. Such alterable parts or practices are definitely not the ‘core’ of religion where the belief is based and religion is founded upon. It could only be treated as mere embellishments to the non- essential part or practices.”

(emphasis added)

The test laid down by the Apex Court to determine whether a practise or part thereof is essential to a religion is to find out whether the nature of the religion will be changed without that part or practise. If the taking away that part of practise could result in a fundamental change of the character of that religion, then such part

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