Rights & Liabilities of Religious Institutions in Art 26 of the Indian Constitution
It may be noted that while Art 25 i.e right to freedom of religion is available to all persons, Art 26 is confined to religious denomination or institution only and provides for the Rights & Liabilities of Religious Institutions.
Overview of Rights & Liabilities of Religious Institutions under Art 26
The term “religious institution” is not defined in the Constitution. In Oxford Dictionary, it means “a collection of individuals classed together under the same name, a religious sect or body having a common faith and organization and designated by a distinctive name”. In short, in order to be called religious institutions, the following three conditions are to be satisfied.
- It must be a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs or doctrines which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being, that is, a common faith;
- It must have a common organization; and
- It must be designated by a distinctive name.
Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, Anandamarga Vaishnava (the followers of Ramanuja), the followers of Madhawacharya are the examples of religious institutions.
In Bramhchari Sideshwar Shai v. State of W.B. 1995, the question which was before the court was whether Rama Krishna Mission is a religious institution. The court said as the Rama Krishna Mission satisfies all the conditions laid above, hence it is a religious denomination.
Rights & Liabilities of the Religious Institutions under Art 26
- Right to Establish and Maintain Institutions.
Clause (a) of Art 26 guarantees to every “religious denomination” or any section thereof” the right “to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes”.
The above stated right is a group right and is available to every religious institutions. The word establish and maintain has to be read conjunctive. It means only those institutions can be maintained which are established by them.
In Azeez Basha v. Union of India 1986, the dispute was regarding the Aligarh Muslim University. Muslims contended that as AMU is Muslim university so the right to maintain be given to them. The Court rejecting the plea held that AMU was established under the act of the parliament. As Muslims had not established it, so they don’t have the right to maintain it.
Liabilities- The right guaranteed by Article 26 is subjected to ‘public order”; “morality” and “health”. It means that the right under Art 26 may be restricted on the ground only of public order, morality or health and on no other ground.
The right to maintain an institution for religious and charitable purposes includes the right to exclude the profession or practices belonging to other religions. In Sanjib Kumar v. Principal, St. Paul College, the Principal of the College established by the Christian Missionary Society, refused the petitioner to perform Saraswati Puja in the College premises. The Calcutta High Court held that the Principal was entitled to refuse the performance of such a religious practice in the exercise of his right to maintain the institution under Art 26 (a).
- Right to Manage Matters of Religion.
Clause (b) of Art 26 guarantees to every religious denomination “the right to manage its own affairs in matters of religion”.
The expression “matters of religion” includes religious practices, rites and ceremonies essential for the practicing of religion. It thus, not merely includes matters of doctrine and belief concerning the religion, but extends to acts done in pursuance of religion.
In Chinnamma v. D.P.I., the roman catholics removed one Christian women from her community for not following the society rules. The women challenged the removal but the court rejecting the same said religious institutions has the right to manage its religious affairs.
The right to exclude persons who are not entitled to participate in the worship according to the tenets of the institution, has been held to fall under the expression “matters of religion”, protected by Article 26(b).
The Bombay Hindu Places of Public Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956, authorised every Harijan to visit and worship in any temple coming under the Act, as any other Hindu, in general. The Act was challenged by the Satsangis on the ground that it authorised the non-Satsangis in Sastri Yagnapurushdasji v Muldas Bhudardas Vaishya, to enter the places of worship managed by them, who constituted a separate religious sect. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the impugned Act as its object was to establish social equality between all sections of the Hindus in the matters of worship. However, the Court observed that actual worshipping of the Deity would continue to be performed by the authorised pujaries of the temple in accordance with the traditional and conventional manner and by no other devotee entering the temple for darshan.
Apart from these express limitations in Art 26 itself, it has been settled, that Art 26 (b) should be read subject to Art 25 (2). Art 26 (b) relates to “matters of religion”. It, therefore, indicates that there are other affairs as well, which are not matters of religion and to which the guarantee given by this Clause would not apply.
- Right to Own and Administer Property
Clause (c) of Art 26 secures to a religious denomination or any section thereof “the right to own and acquire movable and immovable property”. Clause (d) further strengthens this right by guaranteeing to the denomination “the right to administer such property in accordance with law”.
However, it has been held that Art 26 does not interfere with the right of the State to acquire property. Also, the right to own and acquire property under Art 26 (c), is not a part of basic feature of the Constitution.