Tamil Nadu

SC backs appointment of priests as per Agamas

Reiterating that the fundamental right to freedom of religion is not confined to doctrines and beliefs but extends to “essential practices” done in pursuance of that faith, the Supreme Court on Wednesday held that appointment of archakas (priests) in Tamil Nadu temples as per the restrictions prescribed by the age-old Agamas (treatises) is not a violation of the right to equality.

A Bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana invoked Article 16(5) of the Constitution to hold that “exclusion of some and inclusion of a particular segment or denomination for appointment as archakas would not violate Article 14 [right to equality].”

However, the apex court held that these treatises should necessarily conform to constitutional mandates. It observed that inclusion or exclusion as per the Agama Shastras should not be based on the criteria of caste, birth or any other constitutionally unacceptable parameters.

Under Article 16 (5), the fundamental right to equality of opportunity will not affect a law mandating that an office-bearer of a religious or denominational institution should belong exclusively to a particular religion or denomination. Justice Gogoi, who wrote the judgment, referred to the Constituent Assembly debates to observe that the ambit of Article 16(5) extends to temple priests.

The judgment strikes a balance by not exactly striking down the Tamil Nadu government order of May 23, 2006, which allowed any qualified and trained Hindu to be appointed as priest in Hindu temples in the State.

Instead, the court said the government order would be a point of consideration whenever a court determined, on a case to case basis, whether an Agama followed by a temple to appoint archakas was inconsistent with the Constitution.

The GO and the ordinance that followed >were challenged by the Adi Saiva Sivacharyargal Nala Sangam.

The story so far
1971 The DMK government amends TN HR & CE Act to abolish hereditary appointment of priests and allow all, irrespective of caste, to become priests.
2002 The Supreme Court delivers judgement in the Adhithayan Case. Says no justification in implementing caste.
2006 DMK government issues fresh GO making all persons with "requisite qualification" eligible for appointment as priests. Order challenged again in Supreme Court.
May 2015 Supreme Court reserves judgement
Dec 2015 Supreme Court strikes down 2006 order, says priests can be appointed only as per the Agama Sastras

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Printable version | Sep 11, 2021 4:04:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/SC-backs-appointment-of-priests-as-per-Agamas/article10056624.ece

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