30 prayer halls in Tamil Nadu receive notice, HC stays closure of one
Credit – The Times of India
CHENNAI: District authorities have issued show-cause notice to about 30 Christian prayer halls in Coimbatore district alone, threatening to close them down for conducting prayers without prior permission. But, the Madras high court came to the rescue of one such hall, when it stayed a notice issued by a jurisdictional tahsildar to a Sulur-based prayer hall, on Monday .
Concurring with the submissions of P Wilson, senior counsel for the prayer hall, Justice K Ravichandrabaabu said: “The court is of the prima facie view that the petitioner is entitled to an interim relief of stay for a period of four weeks subject to the condition that under the guise of conducting prayers the petitioner shall not cause any nuisance by way to the public.” The judge then ordered notice to the tahsildar concerned and district collector returnable by four weeks.
Though Selvasingh Samuel, 37, who is pastor of a prayer hall at Sultanpet in Sulur taluk in Coimbatore district, won the relief for his prayer hall, the pattern as per which the notices were slapped on similar prayer halls in the region is unmistakable. Some of the notices were identical and referred to complaints and apprehension of public order disturbances in the regions concerned. They also raised the bogey of prayer being conducted without prior permission from authorities.
Assailing the notices, Wilson argued that issuing such notice was illegal, unlawful and violation of Article 25 of the Constitution (freedom of religion). He said nowhere in any Act, had it been mentioned that permission is required to conduct prayers and conducting prayers do not require any permission from any administration.
Pointing out that the Madurai bench of the court has nullified such prohibitory orders from the district administration as early as 2006, Wilson said, “In Paul Thankom vs State of Tamil Nadu case, the high has held that no permission is required to practice Christianity or to conduct prayers.”
In his petition, Selvasingh Samuel said he had constructed a prayer hall in Sultanpet on his own property acquired bequeathed by his father and was engaged in preaching the Gospel and praying for the sick since 2002. “But on September 28, as a bolt out of the blue, the Sulur tahsildar issued a notice stating that prayer meetings are being conducted in the premises without prior permission from the district administration, thereby requiring the petitioner to conduct further meetings only after getting appropriate permission,” he said.
Later, talking to TOI about further development on the issue, senior counsel Wilson said: “There are around 35 such prayers halls in Coimbatore. All those halls are receiving such notices one after another. So far 10 halls have been issued such show cause notices and have literally stopped prayer meetings in those halls. The Pastors of all the halls would be approaching the court soon.”
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