The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Nobody has right to convert: SC



NEW DELHI: There is no such thing as a fundamental right to convert any person to one's own religion and the government can impose certain restrictions keeping in view public order, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The court's ruling came while dismissing a petition challenging an Orissa law requiring police verification of all religious conversions. Citing the SC's landmark 1977 ruling in Rev Stanislaus vs Madhya Pradesh, a Bench of Chief Justice V N Khare and Justice S B Sinha said that ''what is freedom for one is freedom for the other, in equal measure''.

At dispute was a 1999 provision added to the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, stipulating that a person wanting to convert to a particular religion must make a personal declaration which would be verified by the police also.

Petitioner's counsel Janardhan Das said this provision was unwarranted as it makes a person wanting to convert to a religion of his choice a suspect in the eyes of law. As early as 1976, the Orissa High Court had struck down as unconstitutional the Orissa Act. It quashed all criminal proceedings against those who were alleged to have resorted to conversion through inducement or by ''force'' or ''fraud''.

It had also held that the Act violated Article 25 (1) of the Constitution which guarantees propagation of religion and conversion — something the petitioners had argued ''is a part of the Christian religion''.

On appeal, however, the SC in 1977 overturned the decision. Recalling that judgment by a Constitution Bench headed by the then Chief Justice A N Ray, the apex court said on Tuesday: ''What Article 25(1) grants is not the right to convert another person to one's own religion, but to transmit or spread one's religion by an exposition of its tenets.''

Thus, the court said, it must be remembered that Article 25(1) guarantees ''freedom of conscience to every citizen, and not merely to the followers of one particular religion''. It said: ''The Article postulates that there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one's own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion, that would impinge on the freedom of conscience guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.''


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