Religion, Secularism and Sacraments

The approach to construe the protection of religion or matter of religion or religious practices guaranteed by Articles 25 and 26 must be viewed with pragmatism since by the very nature of things; it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to define the expression religion or matters of religion or religious belief or practice.The word ‘religion’ in Articles 25 and 26 has to be construed in its strict and etymological sense and every aspect of religion is not safeguarded by the Constitution.

“A religion undoubtedly has its basis in a system of beliefs and doctrine which are regarded by those who profess religion to be conducive to their spiritual well-being. A religion is not merely an opinion, doctrine or belief. It has outward expression in acts as well. It is not every aspect of religion that has been safeguarded by Articles 25 and 26 nor has the Constitution provided that every religious activity cannot be interfered with.”[1]Every religion must believe in conscience and ethical and moral precepts.

Therefore, whatever binds a man to his own conscience and whatever moral or ethical principle regulate the lives of men believing in that theistic, conscience or religious belief that alone can constitute religion as understood in the Constitution which fosters feeling of brotherhood, amenity, fraternity and equality of all persons which find their foot-hold in secular aspect of the Constitution. Secular activities and aspects do not constitute religion which brings under its own cloak every human activity. There is nothing which a man can do, whether in the way of wearing clothes or food or drink, which is not considered a religious activity. Every mundane or human activity was not intended to be protected by the Constitution under the guise of religion.

Therefore, the right to religion guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 is not an absolute or unfettered right to propagating religion which is subject to legislation by the State limiting or regulating any activity – economic, financial, political or secular – which are associated with religious belief, faith, practice or custom. They are subject to reform on social welfare by appropriate legislation by the State.

Though religious practices and performances of acts in pursuance of religious belief are as much a part of religion as faith or belief in a particular doctrine, which by itself is not conclusive or decisive. What are essential parts of religion or religious belief or matters of religion and religious practice is essentially a question of facts to be considered. Article 25 (2) (a) of the Constitution makes clear the distinction between private and public domains has had other important consequences in matters of religion: the dissociation of religion, as a private belief and activity, from religious institutions, many of which are deemed public in character, has allowed the State since British times to extend its control over these institutions in the name of “rationalizing” their management.

[1]A.S. Narayana Deekshitulu v. State of Andhra Pradesh A.I.R. 1996 S.C. 1765


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