In a significant judgement, the Bombay High Court has held that the government cannot compel any person to declare his religion in any document, form or declaration.
Hearing a PIL filed by three individuals, a bench of justices Abhay Oka and A S Chandurkar ruled that every citizen in India, which was a secular democratic republic, had the right under the Constitution to state that he or she does not belong to any religion and does not practice or profess any religion.
The Centre and Maharashtra Government had stated that “No Religion” filled up in official forms cannot be treated as a religion or a form of religion.
Referring to Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees right to freedom of conscience, the bench held that such a right conferred on a citizen includes a right to openly say that he or she does not practice any religion.
“India is a secular democratic republic and there is complete freedom for any individual to decide whether he or she wants to adopt or profess any religion,” the judges said in their judgement on Tuesday.
“If a person is practising any particular religion, he or she can give up that religion and claim that he or she does not belong to any religion,” the bench observed.
The petitioners — Dr Ranjit Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranware — had approached the State printing press seeking issuance of a gazette notification that they belonged to “No religion”. The State had rejected their application, following which they approached the High Court.
The petitioner said they belonged to an organisation named Full Gospel Church of God which has 4000 members. Though the name of this organisation suggests that it may be a Christian body, the organisation does not believe in any religion, much less Christianity.
They said that although they believed in Jesus Christ they did not believe in Christianity or any religion. They further said that they had a right under the Constitution to state that they were not following any religion.
The Centre and Maharashtra Government opposed their plea saying “No Religion” filled up in official forms cannot be treated as a religion or a form of religion.
The High Court, however, was of the view that India was a secular democratic republic with no state religion.
It held that no State authority can infringe upon a person’s right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution i.e freedom of conscience and freely practising, professing or propagating any religion.