Adv. Thomas T. Jacob
Advocate based out of Chennai and practices at the Madras High Court, Chennai for the past 19 years.He attends the I P C Zion Assembly Church, Aminjikaral, Chennai. Thomas is son of Late pastor Jacob Thomas
This article is to enlighten readers about the basic rights they can claim, enforce or in establishing their legitimacy as Christians operating in public space as citizens of this Country. Rights are for all citizens in India and not qualified to any majority or minority groups. While minorities may have certain rights and privileges on account of protecting minority interests against infringement from the majority or a concession for any inability to exercise their rights on account of being in minority.
We often talk about rights, but most of the time we do not know the full import of the term ‘rights’? Rights are rules of interaction between people. They place constraints and obligations upon the actions of the state and individuals or groups. For example, if one has a right to life, it means that others do not have the liberty to kill him or her. Rights are defined as claims of an individual that are essential for the development of his or her own self and that are recognized by society or State. These are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement and are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed to people or owed to people, according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theory. Rights are often considered fundamental to civilization, being regarded as established pillars of society and culture.
The Preamble of the Constitution of India states
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION”.
The preamble forms the firm foundation of the constitution and provides the basic tenants of rights for every citizen.Fundamental Rights are provided in Part III of the Constitution of India andare basic human rights for every citizen which is recognized by the state. If the fundamental right of any Individual is violated he/shecould redress/enforce the same through the court of law by approaching either the High Court or the Supreme Court in the form of Writ Petitions.
The Constitution guarantees six fundamental rights to allits citizens which includes
(i) right to equality (Article 14 to 18),
(ii) right to freedom/life (Article 19 to 22),
(iii) right against exploitation (Article 23 & 24),
(iv) right to freedom of religion (Article 25 to 28),
(v) cultural and educational rights (Article 29 to 31) and (vi) right to constitutional remedies (Article 32 to 35).
So Right to Freedom of Religion is a fundamental right and also one of the objectives declared in the Preamble where it says“in securing liberty of belief, faith and worship”. The Constitution declares India as a ‘secular state since India is a multi-religious country, where Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and many other communities live together’. It means that the Indian State has no religion of its own despite a particular religion having majority numbers. Unlike in England where the Queen is the Head of the Church of England, In India there is no provision to make any religion the established religion of the State. The state observes an attitude of neutrality and impartiality towards all religion. The Supreme Court of India has explained the Secular character of the Indian Constitution in one of its judgements (1974 AIR 1389) by stating “Secularism is neither Anti-God nor Pro-God, it treats alike the devout, the antagonistic and the Atheist. It eliminates God from the matters of the State and ensures that no one shall be discriminated on the grounds of religion”
Thus the Indian Constitution allows full freedom to all the citizens to have faith in any religion and to worship the way they like. In respect of the Right to freedom the Constitution makes the following four provisions under Articles 25 to 28:
1. Article – 25 Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion – It means all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion freely. However, it does not mean that one can force another person to convert his/her religion either through force or allurement.Besides the above stated restrictions, the State also has the power to regulate any economic, financial, political or other secular activities related to religion. The State can also impose restrictions on this right on the grounds of public order, morality and health.
2. Article – 26 Freedom to manage religious affairs – It means subject to public order, morality and health, every religious group or any section thereof shall have the right (a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes; (b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion; (c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.
3. Article – 27 Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion– It means no person shall be compelled to pay any tax, the proceeds of which are specifically used in payment of expenses incurred on the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious sect.
4. Article – 28 Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain education institutions – It means (1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained using State funds. However, it will not apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such an institution. But no person attending such an institution shall be compelled to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted there or attend any religious worship that may be conducted there. But this should not interfere with the religious beliefs and ways of worship of other fellow beings.
Now the above Religious rights being one of our fundamental rights, any infringement of the same could be redressed or enforced through courts.
One such famous case is the “Bijoe Emmanuel Versus State of Kerala case reported in (1987 AIR 748) where the Supreme Court interfered to uphold fundamental rights.This was a case where 3 children belonging to a particular faith refused to sing the National Anthem but had stood respectfully when the same was sung in their school due to their religious conviction. They were expelled by the school authorities who relied on a circular issued by the Director of Public Instruction, Kerala which said “It is compulsory that all schools shall have morning Assembly every day before actual instruction begin. The whole school with all pupils and teachers should gather for the Assembly. After singing of the National Anthem, the whole school shall in one voice, take the National Pledge before marching back to the classes.”This was a case which was deeply debated by society as though the students were being unpatriotic and in direct conflict with the constitution. The expulsion was challenged through a Writ Petition by the guardian of the children citing that their fundamental Rights under Art. 19(1)(a) and 25(1)have been infringed and they are entitled to be protected. Though the Single Judge and the Division Bench of the Kerala High Court rejected their plea, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that expelling the Children in the instant case was in violation of Article 19 (1) (a) and Article 25 (1) of the Constitution. The Court reasoned that there is no provision which requires anyone to sing the National Anthem if their religious conviction did not allow them as long as the person stands respectfully.
There are many other cases where the Courts have come forward to enforce ones fundamental rights. One case presently being closely observed by Human Rights groups, Religious establishments and the Legal community practising Constitutional law is the case filed (WPC/1759/2014) by the “Chhattisgarh Christian Forum” against the State of Chhattisgarh in the High Court of Chhattisgarh against a resolution passed by a Village Council under section 129(G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act which declared: “To stop the forced conversion by some outsider religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, the Sirisguda Village Council bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of non-Hindu religions”. This resolution was agreed to by more than 50 Gram Panchayat in Bastar District. The challenge states that this resolution is in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution and the High Court has admitted this writ Petition and the case is ripe for hearing.
This brings us to the question that if Fundamental rights and constitutional remedy is guaranteed by the Constitution, how is it that there are other laws in this Country which put restrictions on religion. Article 25 (1) also states that the State can also impose restrictions on the Religious right on grounds of public order, morality and health. Moreover, as religion is not defined under the Constitution, the courts have elaborated this further. It said that “religion in normative sense is understood as a set of principles of faith in transcendent reality. Thus, any conflict among different faiths disturbs public order threatening the secular fabric of the nation. Public order is also to be distinguished from “law and order” The State machinery, therefore, has to secure balance of religious freedom along with the avowed object of secularism. Under this principle of public order, some states have brought in the Anti-conversion laws. In fact, public order was the reason behind a manual of guidelines to “Prevent and Control Communal Disturbances and to Promote Communal Harmony 2005” in Kerala. Currently there are five Indian states namely Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh which have Anti-Conversion laws in place to prevent forced conversions. The State of Arunachal Pradesh has an anti-conversion law but the rules needed to enforce it are not framed and therefore it is inoperative. The State of Rajasthan has an Anti-Conversion bill that is yet to be turned into a law. These laws as such do not ban conversions so long as they are voluntary and the due process as prescribed is followed. This Law restricts forced or allured conversions as a matter of “public order,” which is listed in the constitution as a subject for which states can enact legislation and the Supreme Court has upheld the power of the states to bring such laws citing Public order. It is reported that there is a widespread misuse of these Anti-Conversion laws against Christians and Christian Organisations. One of the promises of the present BJP Government was to implement a Central Act on Anti Conversion but this has not materialised as there is a conflict. Such an act cannot be brought as a Central Act since the constitution stipulates that passing of laws on such matters rests only with individual states.
While it is good to know our fundamental right we also need to understand and carry out our fundamental duties. Christians as citizens of this Country also needto uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. We also need to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India. The constitution (a) gives us the freedom of expression but it is our duty not to hurt the feelings of others. (b) If we have a right to use a public park, a well or a tank, It is our duty not to deny the use of them to others. (c) If we have the right to live, it is the duty of others not to kill us or injure us, (d) If we have the right to be taught, It is our duty to obey the rules and maintain discipline.
Most of the skirmishes that we as Christians have with people of other religion are not always spontaneous and their occurrence is generally preceded by signs which manifest in various forms. It is for us to be careful both in civic and in spiritual sense and restrain from doing them. I am highlighting a few things we need to take precaution and avoid while practicing or while in propaganda of our religion:-
(a) Use of derogatory and provocative language in speeches/posters/ pamphlets
(b) Circulation of propaganda material which could include pictures likely to incite trouble or indicative of conspiracy to do so
(c) Malicious propaganda-insulting religious symbols and leaders
(d) Writing or chanting offensive slogans
(e) Increased activities/congregation or virulent speeches near places of worship of other religion
(f) Repeated mentioning of religious conversions statistics
(g) Formation of organizations to defend by issuing threats of retaliation or caution
(h) Disturbing the public with loudspeakers, amplifiers or parking hazardously and being a nuisance to the public.
(i) Large-scale distribution of Articles/things/gifts to the public before a meeting or after a meeting which could qualify the activity as“allurement”.
Most of our Modern Evangelism is contrary to what Jesus taught and what the Apostles preached and practiced. Our endeavour must be to proclaim the Good news and not stall evangelism by being foolish and in conflict with others. The Bible teaches us to live in harmony with others in Romans 12:16 hence any argument that we need not fear to tell the truth on other religions publicly by using offensive words would be wrong and would not lead the one who hears to the truth and would antagonise him further. Peter said in 1st Peter 4:15 that our suffering must not have been for making trouble oras a meddler. We also need to be wise to avoid any conflict as Jesus himself slipped away from his Jewish opponents who wanted to stone him (John 10:39) to avoid trouble. It could also be because he knew he still had more years of ministry. Paul, bold as he was, on one occasion fled along with others when he knew that one section of people in iconium were to mistreat and stone them. So there is a call for us to be wise as per the situation and with the leading of god’s spirit to respond appropriately as our circumstance requires.
The Bible teaches us to respect all authorities including the laws of man. But god’s laws are higher than mans laws. God’s law is unchanging though mans laws change day by day. If there is a conflict between God’s law and man’s law, a Christian would be advised to keep God’s law. It would be better to go to jail than to rot in hell.
Though my focus mainly was on the rights and duties particularly as citizens I would also like to focus on each of us also being disciples of a God whose character is just and deeply committed to justice. We need to hold in perfect tension our need to claim rights as citizens, the way Paul did in several instances, and also as Christians to go through suffering and persecution as shown in the scriptures.Paul in his conversation with Timothy in 2ndTimothy 3:10-12 says that he endured persecution and suffering in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, and further states that the Lord rescued him from all of it. He further states everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Paul in his letter to Corinthians in 2nd Corinthians1:5 states that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. An engagement with society is not purely with an agenda but something that flows out genuinely from a commitment and love for God and the people he has created including the ones who have persecuted us.