Report No. 235
Freedom to profess and practise religion of one's choice
3. The freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate religion is enshrined in Art.25 of the Constitution. The equality of all religions is expressly recognized by Art.25 thereby emphasizing the cherished ideal of secularism. The expression 'practice' is concerned primarily with religious worship, ritual and observations. Propagating the religion connotes the right to communicate the religious beliefs to others by expounding the tenets of that religion.Of course, in the name of propagation, no one has a right to convert a person to another religion under pressure or inducement (vide Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1977 SC 908). Religious practices are as much a part of religion as religious faith or doctrines (vide The Commissioner, Hindu Religious Endowments, Madras v. Shri Lakshmindra Thiratha Swamiar of Shirur Mutt, AIR 1954 SC 282).
The fundamental right to freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practise and propagate a religion is subject to the considerations of public order, morality and health. Clause (2) of Art.25 preserves the power of the State to make a law regulating any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice.
Art.26 gives effect to the concomitant right of the freedom to manage religious affairs and this right is again subject to public order, morality and health. Articles 25 and 26 undoubtedly extend to rituals also and not confined to doctrine. It is well-settled that the freedom of conscience and the right to profess a religion implies freedom to change the religion as well. It is pertinent to mention that Art. 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically lays down that the freedom of conscience and religion includes freedom to change the religion or belief. The right to freedom of conscience thus implies the individual right of a person to renounce one's religion and embrace another voluntarily.
4. The change from one religion to another is primarily the consequence of one's conviction that the religion in which he was born into has not measured up to his expectations - spiritual or rational. The conversion may also be the consequence of the belief that another religion to which he would like to embrace would better take care of his spiritual well-being or otherwise accomplish his legitimate aspirations. At times it may be hard to find any rational reason for conversion into another religion. The reason for or propriety of conversion cannot be judged from the standards of rationality or reasonableness.
5. Any discussion on conversion generates thoughts on religion and religious faith. There is no precise definition of religion. 'Religion', it is said, is a matter of faith and belief in God is not essential to constitute religion. In Shirur Mutt case (AIR 1954 SC 282), Mukherjee, J made the following pertinent observations on religion and Hindu religion in particular:
"Religion is certainly a matter of faith with individuals or communities and it is not necessarily theistic. There are well known religions in India like Buddhism and Jainism which do not believe in God or in any Intelligent First Cause. A religion undoubtedly has its basis in a system of beliefs or doctrines which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well being, but it would not be correct to say that religion is nothing else but a doctrine or belief. A religion may not only lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of religion and these forms and observances might extend even to matters of food and dress." ( para 18)
The saint and great philosopher Swami Vivekananda said: "Religion as it is generally taught all over the world is said to be based upon faith and belief and in most cases consists only of different sets of theories and that is the reason why we find all religions quarrelling with one another. These theories are again based upon faith and belief."
Sri M.N. Rao, former Chief Justice of H.P. High Court and presently Chairman of National Commission for Backward Classes, after referring to the above thoughts in his article on 'Freedom of Religion and Right to Conversion' (2003) made the following pertinent observations:
"Right to conversion connotes individual right of a person to quit one religion and embrace another voluntarily. This kind of change from one religion to another religion must necessarily be in consequence of one's conviction that the religion in which he was born into has not measured up to his expectations, spiritual or rational. Sometimes it may also be the result of losing faith in one's own religion because of the rigidity of its tenets and practices. Sometimes one may even lose total faith in the very concept of the existence of God and turn to Atheism. A change of religion, a consequence of any of the above reasons, falls within the ambit of the "Right to Conversion".