The Madras High Court was recently constrained to rule that no prior permission is required to conduct prayers in one’s own dwelling in the reasonable exercise of one’s freedom of religion..After a Coimbatore-based Christian pastor was compelled to move the Madras High Court in order to conduct prayers in his residence without interference from regional authorities, Justice PD Audikesavalu passed an order recently highlighting that,.“It is well settled that the right to freedom of religion and manage religious affairs on any denomination are undoubtedly fundamental rights under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, but the same are subject to public order, morality and health, which would not prevent the State from acting in appropriate manner in larger public interest….…the question of requiring the Petitioner to get prior permission from any authority for assembling and conducting any prayers in his dwelling place per se, without causing nuisance or disturbance to others and without causing hindrance to the general public of the locality, does not arise…“.The pastor, C Joseph had been summoned by regional authorities for peace talks on allegations that there was noise pollution and traffic disruption on account of prayers being conducted in his premises..Objections to this effect had been lodged by the Hindu Munnani Party. It was also alleged that the prayer hall in Joseph’s residential premises had been constructed without permission. Joseph was directed not to carry on with prayer meetings until the peace talks concluded..This direction was, in turn, challenged before the Madras High Court. After taking on record the submissions made for Joseph by Advocate Richard Wilson, and Government Pleader M Karthikeyan, Justice Audikesavalu eventually ruled,.“… the directions issued by the Second Respondent in the impugned order calling the Petitioner to attend the peace talks with the Hindu Munnani Party, who had lodged objections, and restraining the Petitioner from conducting prayers till such peace talks are concluded, which is without any authority of law, cannot be sustained.”.Among the various precedents recalled by the Judge to arrive at this conclusion, particular reliance was placed on the Madras High Court’s verdict in R Jeganathan Israel v The Superintendent of Police, Thanjavur and ors. In this case, decided by Justice Jagadish Chandira in January this year, it had been reiterated,.“… there is no need to get prior permission from any authority for assembling and conducting prayers in a dwelling place without causing nuisance or disturbance to others and without causing hindrance to the general public. It is the duty of the authorities to safeguard the protection of every citizen of this Country to practise constitutional rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India…”.However, in that case as well, the Court had cautioned that such exercise of one’s freedom of religion should be made within reasonable limits prescribed in the Constitution itself..“However, in a civilized Society in the name of religion, activities, which disturb others, in any manner and for bona fide reasons, cannot be permitted and hence, if there is any nuisance caused due to noise pollution or for any other bona fide reasons, it is always open to the authorities to take necessary action under the provisions of the relevant statues. .But, before resorting to any action, the authorities, on the basis of concrete evidence, should arrive at a subjective satisfaction that there exists infringement of a right of others, under the Constitution of India, to enforce public order.” .Accordingly, Justice Audikesavalu in the instant case has also added that the authorities would be at liberty to carry out appropriate counter-measures to ensure that the prayers being conducted do not cause any public disturbance or nuisance. The order states,.“However, the Petitioner is bound to ensure that while conducting such prayers in his residential premises, no hindrance or disturbance is caused to the general public and for that purpose, it is certainly open to the concerned authorities on the basis of subjective satisfaction with concrete evidence to take necessary action under the provisions of the relevant statutes in accordance with law in the event of any nuisance being caused due to noise pollution or for violation of any statutory provisions or for any bonafide reasons.“.[Read Order].Bar & Bench is available on WhatsApp. For real-time updates on stories, Click here to subscribe to our WhatsApp.