Religion is an indispensable part of human existence it has been called the centre of human societal existence since ancient times. Religion has always been indispensable and ineffable part of our life. Seven nations of South Asia have formed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which is also known as SAARC, India is the only nation among them which has been declared as a secular state. Sir Harcourt Butler, also stated that “the Indians are essentially religious as Europeans are essentially secular. Religion is still the alpha, and the omega of Indian life”. The effect of religion in Indian society is tremendous our country is known as a secular state and its emergence of the secular state in mid-20th century remarkable social, political, and religious phenomenon. Although India is a secular country and it has no state religion concept, religion is important and also it exists in the public sphere but the country has successfully retained its secular character.
The secular state concept and religious freedom has been developing from different historical parts and philosophical impulses. Almost all countries in the world guarantee freedom of religion in some form, in our country it owes the religious diversity to history rather than any phenomena. This was because of the framers of the constitution of our country as they wanted to base the society on an understanding that man has an “inward association” with religion. Citizens of our country are free to follow any religion and state will not impose any obligation on them. Constitutionally India is a secular nation and basic principle of secularism can be seen into the provisions of our constitution.
The only demand of secularism, as mandated by the Indian Constitution, is that the state must treat all religious faith and their respective followers absolutely equally and without any discrimination in all matters. The right to Freedom of religion is one of the right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution is the right to Freedom of Religion. There are number of religions being practiced in India, the constitution guarantees to every citizen the liberty to follow any religion. Our constitution has been drawn from various sources, it has 22 parts and 8 schedules and each part has their different roles in it. In in its part 3 it consist of fundamental rights. According to this fundamental right to freedom of religion every citizen has the opportunity to practice and spread their religion peacefully.
Freedom of religion is considered as one of the important fundamental right after that of right to life and personal liberty. The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and respects the individual relationship with God. The superior court, after the creation and continued use of the test of essentiality, has tried to improve the religion and its practices by restricting the scope of this freedom. The judiciary has played an important role of religious priest or leader in determining the essential and non-essential religious practices.
If any problem in respect to religion occurs in India, it is the duty of the Indian government to take action against it. Although right to freedom of religion has been well described in the Article 25, 26, 27 and 28 of Indian constitution. This freedom is not only reserved for Indian citizens but it also applicable on anyone who resides in India. It is being clear from the words of article 25 which states that “Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion”. Even they are allowed to open the religious places for the practice of their religion.
As religion is a volatile issue in India and many restrictions imposed by the government on them creates more volatile issue between state and citizens. The Indian Constitution consist a separation between a secular domain and religious domain as the secular is controlled the State and there must be no interfere in religious domain by the state. However, courts of law are regularly called upon to resolve the issues related to religion, and their decisions may have a far reaching impact on religious practices and rituals they follow. The court of law requires the definitions of many notions for its working process like “religion” which is not defined or “worshipper,” “custom,” “usage,” “religious service,” “religious office,” “religious honor,” etc. There are certain litigation is respect to religious issues on which the court have a duty to intervene and rule.
The court of law impose the legal definitions on deciding the religious issues in which the civil rights or other issues regarding natural epidemic occurs and religious places are in question of law. Even the definition of religion is also given by the court. In this the judiciary differ itself from any explicit policy of state secularism and it may change accordingly the historical period practices. The 42nd amendment to the Constitution of India added the term secular in its preamble. Today as we see eeverywhere in the world this corona epidemic is at very high rate, and for this every country is taking different measures in order to end this epidemic disease. In order to face this citizens willingly gone into lockdown with so manty strict restrictions on their freedom and privacy. Even the government has imposed the restriction on religious places because these places come under the head of crowded places.
Many citizens of our country were against it and same issue of restriction action against government was being challenged in case of Mubeen Farooqi v. State of Punjab and others. The Punjab and Haryana High court in which the bench comprising of Justice Ajay Tewari and justice Rajiv Sharma observed that “that the imposition of restrictions on religious places is in larger public interest and has reasonable nexus with the object sought to be achieved. It was also quoted that “merely that in certain areas restrictions have been relaxed cannot be a ground to relax the same qua religious places of worship.”
As the country is suffering from this corona epidemic so the parliament has imposed a nationwide lockdown on 23/03/2020, as per the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Section 35 of the act allows the central government to take measures as it fit necessary or expedient for the purpose of Disaster Management and Section 38 of the act allows the state governments to take measures, as fit necessary. Even there is impartiality towards all religions took place and it is secured through several constitutional provisions such as-
1. Article 25
This Article 25 guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India. It also states that all persons in India, subject to public order, morality, health, and other provisions are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and they have the right to practice, profess and propagate the religion of their choice. But this article doesn’t prevent state from making law relating to regulating or restricting economic, financial, political or secular activity associated with religious practice, giving social welfare and reform and introducing Hindu religious institutions of public character for all classes of Hindu.
2. Article 26
This Article confers right is respect to public order, morality and health including religious denomination or any of its section to:-
- Establish and maintain institutions for charitable and religious purposes.
- Manage its affairs in regard to religion.
- Owning and acquiring both movable and immovable property.
- Administering property in accordance with law.
These restriction which were imposed by the government on the functioning of religious places during lockdown, the petitioner Mubeen Farooqi filled a PIL against it, as he is a lawyer by profession. He was alleging that the relaxations have been provided by the ministry of Home Affairs in respect to other areas such as shops and markets maintaining social distancing, but no relaxation provided to religious places. He also stated that Ramadan is the most sacred month for the Islamic culture and the Mosque is the best place to offer prayers during Ramadan. Petitioner stated that the restriction on religious places are unconstitutional and a clear violation of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 25 and 26 of The Constitution of India, 1950.
The petitioner prayers also stated that of “Opening of the Mosque for a restricted time period for offering Namaz of Eid-ul-Fitr” and “Opening of other religious institutions such as temples, gurudwaras and mosques, since shops and markets have also been permitted to open by maintaining social distancing.
Reasons for the Restriction Imposed and Critical Analysis
Freedom of religion is not only confined to religious beliefs but also extends to those religious practices which are being followed. Both Article 25 and 26 clearly state that it is the fundamental right not just to follow the religious belief or conscience but to exhibit his belief and ideas as are enjoyed by his religion. This type of situation of lockdown has seen by the people for very first time. As the people of our county are very religious and atheist. This corona Virus outbreak has restricted people from visiting religious places. Citizens were silent till no relaxations were made to any work places but when these relaxations were provided to shops and business the people started demanding the reopening of religious places and challenged the restriction imposed by the government on it. This restriction by led the people file the PIL against the government action.
So, the Court dismissed the petition and stated that that “the imposition of restrictions on religious places is in larger public interest. The object of imposing such restrictions is to stop the people from gathering, so as to control the spread of corona virus. The guidelines have been issued strictly in conformity with the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The opening of religious places and holding religious congregations cannot be ordered to be relaxed on the ground of opening of business establishments. The imposition of restrictions is not in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution of India”.
The court further added that “The freedom to religion is subject to public order, morality and public health. It is an extra ordinary situation. In order to safeguard the health of the society, restrictions have been imposed by closing down all the places of worship for public, including holding of religious congregations/gatherings. The restrictions imposed are reasonable based on objectivity. The restrictions do not amount to interference in the religious affairs of any community. The restrictions have been imposed qua religious places of all the religions. The restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs do not violate any fundamental or legal right of the petitioner or similarity situated person.”  So, these were the reasons stated by the court and cleared all the doubts regarding restrictions in it.
As the country has been still suffering from the spread of the corona virus, the decision which was taken by the Home ministry to keep the religious places restricted was in respect of the large public interest and care. The restrictions which was imposed by our government for not allowing the opening of religious places is not violating any fundamental rights of the people at large. The aim of this lockdown was to maintain social distancing and that’s why the restrictions were imposed by the government. The State also has a right to impose restrictions, on the ground of public order, health and morality, as given under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. Thus, these restrictions to the religious places are not wrong.
 RAJENDRA K.SHARMA, INDIAN SOCIETY,INSTITUTIONS AND CHANGE 186 (2004) (quoting SPENCER HARCOURT BUTLER,INDIA INSISTENT (1931)
 The Constitution of India, 1950
 Article 25 of The Constitution of India, 1950
 CWP PIL 52 2020(O&M)
 Mubeen Farooqi v. State of Punjab and others
 Section 35 and Section 38 of Disaster Management Act 2005
 Article 25 of The Constitution of India, 1950
 Article 26 of The Constitution of India, 1950
 Mubeen Farooqi v. State of Punjab and others (CWP PIL 52 2020(O&M)