Published On: Sat, Dec 3rd, 2022

Gujarat govt’s affidavit in SC: Freedom of religion does not include right to convert

New Delhi: Just ahead of second phase of assembly elections on December 5, Gujarat government on Saturday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court supporting the stand of Centre and also the petitioner Ashwini Upadhyaya emphasising on the need for stern steps to curb forced religious conversion

The said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion

Informing SC that it has passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 and Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 to prevent conversion from one religion to another by use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means, the state govt said right to freedom of religion does not include a fundamental right to convert other people to a particular religion.

The said right certainly does not include the right to convert an individual through fraud, deception, coercion, allurement or other such means. The meaning and purport of the word ‘propagate’ falling under Article 25 of the Constitution was discussed and debated in great detail in the constituent assembly and the inclusion of the said word was passed by the constituent assembly only after the clarification that the fundamental right under Article 25 would not include the right to convert, said the affidavit.

“It is humbly submitted that this Hon’ble Court in the captioned Writ Petition is effectively dealing with the larger issue of religious conversions by force, allurement or fraudulent means and have expressed its deep anguish over forceful religious conversion by observing that such conversions affect the security of the nation and violate citizens’ right to freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion, the affidavit further said.

“It is humbly submitted that the Act of 2003 is a validly constituted legislation and more particularly the provision of section 5 of the Act of 2003, which is holding the field since last i8 years and thus, a valid provision of law so as to achieve the objective of the Act of 2003 and to maintain the public order within the State of Gujarat by protecting the cherished rights of vulnerable sections of the society including women and economically and socially backward classes. It is humbly submitted that the Hon’ble High Court while passing the order, order dated 19.08.2021 read with order 26.08.2021 in SCA No.io3o4-io3o5 of 2021 failed to appreciate that by staying the operation of section 5 of the Act of 2003, the whole purpose of the Act effectively stands frustrated,” it added.

The state also informed the SC that Gujarat High Court stayed operation of eight sections and subsections of Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021 and that order has been challenged in the SC.
The provision stipulates requirement of prior permission from district magistrate for religious conversion. The provision was introduced in the original act of 2003.

Section 5 of the Act requires a person who is converting another person from one religion to another, to seek prior permission for such a conversion from the distinct magistrate and also requires the person converting to send an intimation to the district magistrate of the district where the ceremony of conversion took place. Failing to adhere to this provision attracts imprisonment upto one year or with fine which may extend upto Rs 1,000, or both.

Justifying the provision, the state government said the exercise of taking prior permission also obviates the forcible conversion and protects the “freedom of conscience” guaranteed to all the citizens of the Country. It is submitted that the steps stipulated therein are the precautions to ensure that the process of renouncing one religion and adopting another religion is genuine, voluntary and bona fide and at the same time, free from any force, allurement and fraudulent means.

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