Obtain undertakings from organisers of religious meets, says High Court

Obtain undertakings from organisers of religious meets, says High Court

Right to free speech does not include hate speech, clarifies judge

Organisers of conventions, congregations and other religious meets should henceforth give written undertakings to government officials concerned assuring them that the events would not be used to deliver speeches offending or denigrating any other religion, faith, mode of worship or other practices associated with it, the Madras High Court has ordered.

Justice N. Seshasayee passed the order at the Madurai Bench of the High Court on Thursday after observing that the secular ethos which overflow from the Constitution provide the citizens neither a “freeway” to profess, practise or propagate one’s religion and faith nor any open space for demonstrating the domination of one religion over the other.

Disposing of a plea seeking permission for a religious convention in Kanniyakumari district, the judge said, ordinarily while dealing with such cases, the court merely directs the authority concerned to consider the requests made by the petitioners. And therefore, in the present case too, he did not want any variance to the general norm adopted by the court.

“However, this court senses an urgent need to infuse responsibility among active practitioners of every religion to ensure that they hold their religious meetings… without breaching the constitutional spirit of secularism, for not everyone seems to take it seriously. While the courts stay neutral, they still do not blindfold themselves to the happenings around.

“Equality of religion is primarily an aspect internal to the intellect and in a mature 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. When the constitutional responsibility associated with equality of freedom of religion is eroded, and when executive responses are disproportionate to the rate of such degradation, it then becomes the responsibility of the court to step in,” the judge observed.

Public order

Extracting Article 25(1) of the Constitution in his order, he said, a reading of the provision would make it abundantly clear that the framers of the supreme law of the land had not rushed to declare the fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate a religion but had introduced a rider restricting the right, subject to public order, morality and health.

“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 tranquillity. 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,” Justice Seshasayee added.

Preserve equality and it would protect secularism should be the mantra, he said and went on to state that if equality was disturbed, then it would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all citizens of the country alike as held by the Supreme Court in the famous Rev. Stanislaus versus State of Madhya Pradesh case in 1977.

Source : The Hindu

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