The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court has directed the authorities to obtain a written undertaking from the organizers of meeting or congregation or convention of any religious group that they would ensure that no speech offending or denigrating any other religion or their faith or their mode of worship or other practices associated with it will be made.
"Every authority who decides to grant permission for any such meeting or congregation or convention of every religious group shall obtain a written undertaking from the organizers of such meeting etc., that they would ensure that no speech offending or denigrating any other religion or their faith or their mode of worship or other practices associated with it will be made. And, every instance of breach of this undertaking should invite immediate prosecution of the speaker and the organizers." ordered Justice N. Seshasayee while disposing a petition seeking permission and to provide police protection to conduct a religious convention in Kanyakumari.
Praise Thy Religion, But Don't Abuse Others
The court said that active practitioners of every religion should ensure that they hold their religious meeting, congregation or convention without breaching the Constitutional spirit of secularism. The Judge added that the Constitution has secured to everyone to praise their religion, but not to abuse another. The judge observed:
"Equality of religion is primarily an aspect internal to the intellect, and in a matured society it transcends to shape the attitude of men. Sadly, on display are sporadic instances when every religious group competes to dominate with shameless quest its supremacy over the other. The Constitution has secured to everyone to praise their religion, but not to abuse another. Free speech cannot include hate speech, and if this difference is to be maintained, then responsibility attached to free speech should not be forgotten."
Preserve equality, it will protect secularism
The court said that the Constitution has not provided a citizen a free way to profess, practise or propagate one's religion and faith, nor any open space for demonstrating the domination of one religion over the other. The court further observed that the right to religion is subject to rider restricting the right to freedom of religion inter alia to public order and other provisions of Part III of the Constitution. The judge observed:
"The Preamble to the Constitution prides itself to constitute this nation into a secular Republic. However, without establishing equality in the conscience of the citizens, that may be a distant dream. And, at the ground level it can reduce public order that concerns both Articles 25(1) and 19(2) of the Constitution into empty-expressions. Equality is the fountainhead of secularism and the bedrock of public order and tranquility. If We, the People, should have concern for secularism, then equality of religions must be let to occupy the consciousness of every religious group, since secular values cannot exist without respect to equality. Preserve equality, it will protect secularism should be the mantra. But if equality is disturbed, then as held in Rev. Stanislaus Vs State of Madhya Pradesh &Another [AIR 1977 SC 908] it "would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike."
The court then disposed of the petition directing the authority to consider the request seeking permission, and if it decides to grant it, it shall obtain a written undertaking from the organisers that they will ensure that no speech offending or denigrating any other religion, its mode of worship, faith and other practices associated with it will be made.