Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by Courts, Madras HC
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Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by Courts, Madras HC

Meera Emmanuel

The Madras High Court recently had occasion to hold that the judiciary would be slow to interfere in matters of religion.

Relying heavily on the observations made by the Supreme Court in the Sabarimala case, including the dissenting opinion by Justice Indu Malhotra, the Bench of Justices CV Karthikeyan and Krishnan Ramasamy ruled,

What emerges from the ratio laid down [in the Sabarimala case] is that the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practise and propagate religion is available and that there are no restraints upon the free exercise of religion and the Court cannot impose its morality or rationality with respect to the form of worship and it is irrelevant whether the practise is rational or logical.

Notions of rationality cannot be invoked in matters of religion by Courts.” 

The Court proceeded to point out that such non-interference is the generally the norm when it comes to matters of religion. As noted in its order,

“… normally and consistently the Courts have kept away from interfering with religious practices and beliefs. Rarely has any Court interfered with any religious practice and religious belief.

The observation was made while dismissing a petition filed challenging a circular issued by the Commissioner of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE Department). The circular directed the performance of “yagnas” to propagate rain in all important temples under the control of the HR & CE Department.

The editor of a web magazine Makkal Seithi MaiyyamV Anbazhagan challenged this circular as unconstitutional and violative of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959. He contended that it was against the Constitutional mandate to develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform as per Article 51(a)(h).

The Court, however, disagreed, eventually ruling that,

It is not for this Court to interfere with or criticize upon any method be it religious or scientific adopted with hope to bring about bountiful rainfall in the State by issuing the Circular. Whether such a method of performing poojas or yagnas to bring about rain is a success or failure is not within the scope of examination by this Court in the writ petition.

It is performed with hope and belief and though they may be successful or not, this Court cannot destroy such belief or hopes of the multitude of people.”

In its judgment, the Bench also opines that the secularism envisioned in the Constitution encourages tolerance for religious beliefs and practices.

The preamble to the Constitution of India among other declarations has declared the State as a Secular State. The citizens of this country are encouraged to have tolerance and to accept all religious beliefs and practices. There is also an encouragement to respect various religious practices followed by various religious communities.

Even at the outset, it is to be stated that every religion propagates various practices to be followed and such practices are for the welfare not only of the people who have faith on such religion and religious practices but also to bring about peace and harmony in society.”

Further, the challenged circular was issued as a matter of state policy with respect to temples falling within the jurisdiction of the HR & CE Department. This being the case, the Court held that there was no scope for its interference in the matter.

In the present case, the policy of the Government cannot be interfered with by the judiciary. Every individual has to have mutual respect for the decisions taken as policy decisions by the Legislature and by the Executive. Judiciary being the guardian of legal rights, has to ensure that such policy confirms to the norms laid down by the Constitution of India.

The present writ petition appears to be clearly an attempt to disturb the faith in the religious beliefs among the people. There is a clear attempt to bring about disruption in peace and harmony.”

In view of these observations, the Court dismissed the petition, while remarking,

We do not find any irregularity or infirmity in the issuance of such circular necessitating interference with the same. We offer no opinion as to whether the practice is scientific in nature or purely religious in nature.” 

Advocate S Kumara Devan, appeared for the petitioner, whereas Special Government Pleader M Maharaja represented the HR & CE Department,

Read the Order:

Madras-HC-V-Anbazhagan-v-HRCE-Dept-May-2019.pdf
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