Government cannot compel any individual to declare or specify his religion: Bombay High Court [Read the Judgment]
The Bombay High Court has directed the State “not to compel any individual to declare of specify his religion in any form or any declaration.” The Court also pronounced that by the virtue of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, every individual has the right to say that he does not belong to any religion or does not practice any religion.
The judgment was given after a public interest litigation was filed in the Bombay High Court, contending that a citizen has a right to claim that he does not belong to any religion. The petitioners in the case were members of Full Gospel Church of God” and they claimed that they believed in existence of Lord Jesus but did not believe in Christianity. They had also contended that Lord Jesus never intended to form any religion and that bible is entirely silent about religion.
The State of Maharashtra had opposed the petition and submitted to the Court “that “No religion” cannot be treated as form of religion.”
The judgment notes, “The Petitioners claim that they made an Application to the State Government Printing Press for notifying the change of religion. They wanted a gazette notification to be issued recording that they are not the Christians but they belong to “No Religion”. The Applications were rejected by the Government Printing Press. That is the cause of action for filing the present petition.”
Writing the judgment, Justice A.S. Oka said, “Freedom of conscience under Article 25 of the Constitution encompasses in itself a freedom to an individual to take a view that he does not belong to any religion. The freedom conferred by Article 25 of the Constitution also includes a right of an individual to claim that he is an 'Atheist'. As the freedom of conscience confers a fundamental right to entertain a religious belief, it also confers a right on an individual to express an opinion that he does not belong to any religion.”
The judgment also notes, “No authority which is State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India or any of its agency or instrumentality can infringe the fundamental right to freedom of conscience.” He also said, “Therefore, if he is called upon by any agency or instrumentality of the State to disclose his religion, he can always state that he does not practise any religion or he does not belong to any religion. He cannot be compelled to state that he professes a religion.”
The judgment also set aside the government press order.