New Delhi, February 27, 2011
Maintaining that there was no constitutional right to convert a person
from one religion to another, justice P Sathasivan of the Supreme
Court on Saturday said the right to propagate one’s religion was not
an unrestricted right.
Delivering the third Dr LM Singhvi Memorial Lecture on “Secularism and
Rule of Law in India,” justice Sathasivam said the state has a right
to pass laws restricting conversions if such activities created public
Quoting from the SC’s 1977 verdict in Stainislaus vs State of Madhya
Pradesh & Orissa, he said: “The right to propagate means the right to
‘transmit and spread one’s religion by an exposition of its tenets’.
But…there is no constitutional right to convert a person from one
religion to another, because this would impinge on the ‘freedom of
conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike.”
The Supreme Court delineated the boundaries of the right to propagate
in the context of state legislation prohibiting forcible conversions,
said justice Sathasivam, who headed the bench, which made a
controversial remark against religious conversions while upholding the
conviction of Dara Singh in the Graham Staines murder case last month.
But the bench chose to modify it after several Christian organisations
termed it uncalled for and demanded its withdrawal.
On state’s the right to pass legislation restricting conversions,
justice Sathasivam, quoting from an SC verdict said: “the ‘public
order’ provision of Article 25(1) of the Constitution has a ‘wide
connotation’ and that the state could legislate conversions if they
‘created public disorder.”
While maintaining, “Secularism is the part of the basic structure of
the Constitution,” he said the term ‘secular’ has not been defined,
presumably because it is a very elastic term not capable of a precise
definition and perhaps best left undefined.
He, however, said in Indian context secularism meant “Sarva Dharma
Sambhav” ie tolerance for all religions, which springs from due
deliberation for one’s own happiness and also for welfare of all