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INDIANS CAN BE 'PERSONS WITHOUT RELIGION'

Reproduced below, at sl. no. I, is the operative part of the path breaking Bombay High Court judgement.

(One only hopes that, as in case of the Sec. 377, the SC does not intervene to turn back the clock.)

The complete text of the judgement is available at: <http://www.sacw.net/article9624.html>.

Following that, at sl.no. II, is a news item reporting on the issue.]
I/II.
Apart from the freedom of conscience, there is a fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Articles 19 and 25 confer a freedom of conscience on a citizen which is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of India. As far as the freedom of speech and expression is concerned, it guarantees the freedom to an individual from compulsion as to what he shall think and what he shall say. India is a secular democratic republic. The State has no religion. There is a complete freedom for every individual to decide whether he wants to adopt or profess any religion or not. He may not believe in any religion. If he is professing a particular religion, he can give up the religion and claim that he does not belong to any religion.

There is no law which compels a citizen or any individual to have a religion. The freedom of conscience conferred by the Constitution includes a right not to profess, practice or propagate any religion. The right of freedom of conscience conferred on a citizen includes a right to openly say that he does not believe in any religion and, therefore, he does not want to practice, profess or propagate any religion. If the parents of a citizen practice any particular religion, he has a freedom of conscience to say that he will not practice any religion. There is a freedom to act as per his conscience in such matters.

8. Freedom of conscience under Article 25 of the Constitution encompasses in itself a freedom to an individual to take a view that he does not belong to any religion. The freedom conferred by Article 25 of the Constitution also includes a right of an individual to claim that he is an ’Atheist’. As the freedom of conscience confers a fundamental right to entertain a religious belief, it also confers a right on an individual to express an opinion that he does not belong to any religion.

9. No authority which is a State within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India or any of its agency or instrumentality can infringe the fundamental right to freedom of conscience. Any individual in exercise of right of freedom of conscience is entitled to carry an opinion and express an opinion that he does not follow any religion or any religious tenet. He has right to say that he does not believe in any religion. Therefore, if he is called upon by any agency or instrumentality of the State to disclose his religion, he can always state that he does not practice any religion or he does not belong to any religion. He cannot to be compelled to state that he professes a particular religion.
….

11. Therefore, the Petition must succeed and we pass the following order:

ORDER :

(a) We issue a writ of mandamus directing the Respondents not to compel any individual to declare or specify his religion in any form or any declaration;

(b) We declare that by virtue of Article 25 of the Constitution of India, every individual has right to claim that he does not belong to any religion and that he does not practice or profess any religion;

(c) The order of the Government Printing Press is set aside to that extent;

(d) The Petition is allowed on above terms.

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