End of compulsion to declare or specify the religion

Prachi Kumari

On 23 September, the Bombay High Court directed the State “not to compel any individual to declare of specify his religion in any form or any declaration” by issuing a writ of mandamus. Justice A.S. Oka, and Justice A.S. Chandurkar, in the case of Dr. Ranjeet Suryakant Mohite & ors. Vs UOI & ors. (({Civil Appellate Jurisdiction, Public Interest Litigation No.- 139 of 2010 (Bombay High Court, 23/09/2014)}))also declared that, “…by virtue of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, every individual has right to claim that he does not belong to any religion and that he does not practice or profess any religion;”

Hearing a PIL filed by three individuals Dr Ranjeet Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranware, 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 petitioners in the present 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. Before filing this PIL, the Petitioners had 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. Therefore they had filed this petition seeking the issuance of writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ order or direction thereby directing the respondents to recognize “No Religion” as a form of religion and not to insist on writing/mentioning/specifying/ quoting religion in any of its forms or declarations. The order of the Government Printing Press is set aside by present judgment.

I think this judgment consolidates the constitutional motive of secularism. As we know, the preamble of the constitution of India declares India to be a ‘secular democratic republic’. Moreover, Article 25 of the constitution guarantees Freedom of consciousness and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. Therefore, it can be said that the constitution not only guarantees a person’s freedom of religion and conscience, but also ensures freedom for one who has no religion, and it scrupulously restrains the state from making any discrimination on ground of religion.