Supreme Court begins hearing on religious rights

‘Law can regulate offerings at religious places if used for terrorism, casinos’

February 17, 2020 11:08 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 11:34 am IST

Questions on the scope of freedom of religion rose out of the Sabarimala case.

Questions on the scope of freedom of religion rose out of the Sabarimala case.

A nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday observed that making offerings at places of worship may be a religious practice, but the law can regulate the money donated at such places if it is used for “terrorism” or “running casinos.”

The top court said the old practices of “human sacrifices” and ‘sati’ amounted to murder under law and could not be saved on ground of “essential religious practice.”


The Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, made these observations as it commenced hearing to deliberate upon the issues pertaining to the scope of freedom of religion as also of judicial scrutiny into “essential religious practices” of separate “religious denominations.”

The Bench is also examining the issue whether a person, who does not belong to a particular faith, can file a PIL petition questioning the religious practice of another religion or sect of a religion.

The questions have arisen out of a judgment in the Sabarimala case.

“The IPC can be read as the guard against the practice of human sacrifices, because it is murder under the IPC. Likewise ‘sati’ also amounted to murder ... Even a religious aspect can be the subject matter of reform,” said the Bench, which also included Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, M.M. Shantanagoudar, S.A. Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.

Examining the scope of judicial power in religious matters, it gave illustration of practice of giving offerings or money in temples and said they were part of religious practices.


“But if money is being used for terrorism or for running a casino etc. then this is secular part of the religion and can be regulated by the law,” it said. It also said financial activities of a religious trust pertaining to “donations, hygiene and health” can be regulated by laws.

“Even if there is an essential religious practice, it can be regulated if it affects the three grounds [public order, morality and health] in Article 26,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said while initiating submissions on behalf of the Centre.

“This is the hallmark of our Constitution,” the Bench said, while giving examples of practices of “human sacrifices” and ‘sati’ being held illegal.

Mr. Mehta referred to Articles 25 and 26 and said all persons have freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality and health” and every “religious denomination” shall have the right to establish, own, maintain and manage religious institutions.

“Defining ‘religious denomination’ would be the most crucial part during the course of this hearing,”, he said.

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