The Bombay High Court recently ruled that no person in India can be forced to declare his or her religion. The judgment came after the court heard a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking orders for the Maharashtra government to allow people not to declare their religion on official documents.
The petition was filed by Subhash Ranaware, Kishore Nazare and Ranjeet Mohite, each of whom claim to be associated with the Full Gospel Church of God, which reportedly has more than 4,000 members. While members of this congregation do believe in Jesus Christ, they denounce Christianity along with other religious practices.
When the trio approached the printing press in Maharashtra, seeking to issue a gazette notification that would disqualify them as Christians and state that they belong to no particular religion, the government body in concern rejected their application form, compelling them to file a PIL at the High Court.
A division bench comprised of Justices AS Chandurkar and Abhay Oka directed the state government as well as the Union government not to force any individual to declare his or her religion on official documents, saying every person in India has the right to claim that he or she does not belong to, profess or practice any particular religion. In response, both the Maharashtra government and the Union government said such a relief cannot be granted, asserting ‘no religion’ cannot be treated a religious preference on official forms.
However, the High Court reminded both governments that India is a secular, democratic republic that endorses no particular state religion, which is why no state authority has the power to violate a person’s fundamental rights under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that allows Indians the choice to practice, profess or propagate any religion they like.
“There is complete freedom for every individual to decide if he wants to adopt or profess any religion or not. He may not believe in any religion. If he is professing a particular religion, he can give up the religion and claim that he does not belong to any religion. There is no law which compels a citizen or any individual to have a religion. The right of freedom of conscience conferred on a citizen includes a right to openly say that he does not believe in any religion and, therefore, he does not want to practice, profess or propagate any religion. If the parents of a citizen practice any particular religion, he has a freedom of conscience to say that he will not practice any religion,” the judges said.
According to the ruling, a person who is asked to disclose his or her religion by the state can say he or she does not practice any.
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