Can’t order opening of religious places on lines of industry: High Court - ECAS Punjab

Can’t order opening of religious places on lines of industry: High Court

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Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 23

The opening of religious places and holding of religious congregations could not be ordered on the analogy of opening of business establishments, the High Court today asserted, while holding that freedom to religion was subject to public order, morality and public health.

Upholding the guidelines issued on March 24 by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs stating that all places of worship would be closed for public and religious congregations, a Division Bench of the HC added directions could not be issued to the state government to relax restrictions regarding places of worship.

The order by the Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Ajay Tewari came on a petition filed by advocate Mubeen Farooqi seeking directions to Punjab and other respondents to open all religious places.

The Bench added that the imposition of restrictions on religious places was in larger public interest and the object sought to be achieved was prevention of gathering at religious places to control the spread of Coronavirus.

Holding that the guidelines were issued strictly in conformity with the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Bench added the imposition of restrictions was not repugnant to Article 25 of the Constitution, which guaranteed freedom of conscience to every person and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to certain restrictions imposed by the state

Describing the current situation as "extraordinary", the Bench added the restrictions did not amount to interference in the religious affairs of any community. It was a public policy and the scope for judicial interference in such matters was "very limited".

"The restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs do not violate any fundamental or legal right of the petitioner or the similarly situated persons. The endeavour of the Ministry is to break the cycle by maintaining social distancing. We will not substitute our wisdom for the wisdom of the Executive decision, which has been taken in the larger public interest," the Bench added.

Before parting with the 68-page judgment, the Bench asserted the right of the state to impose restrictions, required or found necessary on the ground of public order, health and morality, was inbuilt under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution and the imposition of restrictions constitutes "paternalistic act".

Merely relaxation of restrictions in certain areas could not be a ground to relax the same regarding religious places of worship. "The discretion not to permit opening of all the places of worship for public and prohibiting holding of religious congregations/gatherings has been exercised judiciously," the Bench concluded.

from The Tribune

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