`Bring Church property under purview of law'

KOTTAYAM, AUG. 21. A conference of laity belonging to the various Christian denominations today called for bringing Common Church Properties under the purview of law.

Inaugurating the conference, organised by the Krysthava Samyuktha Karmasamithy, K.T. Thomas, former Supreme Court judge, said no public activity could remain exempted from being brought under law in a Republic. As such, the management of Church properties should also be brought under the purview of law, he said.

Article 25 of the Constitution provided freedom for functioning and propagation of one's religion, he said. However, it also makes it clear that nothing under the said Article "shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other similar activity that may be associated with religious practices," Mr. Thomas added. According to him, the rights enshrined under Article 25 apply to individuals and not to any religious organisation.

Wealth mobilised, either from within or outside the nation, should be accounted for and any claim to the effect that anyone could get away without accounting for the wealth amassed, went contrary to the basic tenets of Republicanism, he said.

Fundamental rights

Referring to the Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act, the Wakf Act and the Sikh Gurudwara Act, Mr. Thomas said such regulations had in no way interfered with the fundamental rights of those belonging to these communities. Only the Christian organisations, the Mata Amritanandamayi sect and the Sathya Sai sect remained outside such regulations, he said. Mr. Thomas also said that anybody who claims himself or herself to be the custodian of such wealth should be brought under the taxation net.

A situation that provided freedom to religious leaders to amass wealth without proper accountability was not good for society; neither was it good for the religion, Mr. Thomas said.

Uniform law

In his presidential address, M.V. Pylee said while it was assumed that the Church property belonged to the community, the reality was that the community as a whole had hardly any control over it.

It was the respective Bishops who managed the property and that type of management could become dictatorial. In the context of the democratic Constitution and existence of rule of law, it was only proper that the Church property was managed under uniform law applicable to all churches, he said.

Joseph Pulikkunnel, N.M. Joseph, Thomas Mathew and others spoke on the occasion.