Freedom of Religion: Definition and Meaning

India has always been a place of many different religions and sects, and the variety of these beliefs and groups there is unmatched anywhere else on the globe. For millennia, India has upheld its pledge to tolerate and enable all religions in her territory to live and prosper. It has coped with difficulties coming from the existence of such variety for centuries and has evolved its own manner of managing multiculturalism in India, which the western world is today wrestling with. The majority of Indians, almost 53 percent of the population, see variety as an advantage that benefits the nation rather than creating harm.

Although a diverse population of religions may be unaware of each other's views and may lack a common foundation, India has chosen the road of pluralism over exclusivism. The Indian Constitution encourages Indians' religious systems and allows each group to pursue the religion to which they have adhered without interference. Because of its dedication to plurality and constitutional ideals, India is the only secular country in South Asia, whereas its neighbors explicitly or indirectly promote a specific religion.

What is Religion?

The word "religion" is not specified in the constitution. Religion has no valuable definition. Religion is a matter of faith, yet believing in God is not necessary to be religious. The doctrines of each religion are a vital component of it, but the court has the authority to investigate them. Religion and philosophy aren't the same thing.


In India, secularism does not imply irreligion. It entails respect for all faiths and beliefs. Because India is a secular state, there is no such thing as a state religion, and all religious groups have equal constitutional protection without favor or prejudice.

Constitutional Framework of Freedom of Religion

As already said, if God is the question and religion is attempting to answer it, then the answer must be communicated to everyone who may be looking for a solution to that question. As a result, the Indian Constitution offers a system for discovering and spreading one's convictions. The Indian Constitution believes that every citizen in India has a basic level of conscience and that this conscience allows him to discover the full potential of this conscience and establish his relationship with God or his divine, and thus guarantees certain fundamental rights with certain restrictions; these freedoms are covered by Articles 25, 26, 27, and 28.

Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion

Article 25(1) guarantees the freedom to practice, profess, and propagate one's religion, subject to public order, morality, and health, as well as other Part provisions, and 25(2) (a) empowers the State to regulate or restrict those activities of any religious practice that are economic, political, or financial in nature, or any other secular activity, and 25(2) (b) allows for the formulation of social welfare and reform, as well as the opening of religious places of public worship.

Freedom to manage religious affairs

Article 26 declares that every religious denomination or sect has the right to organize and maintain organizations for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own affairs in religious matters, to possess and acquire both mobile and immovable property, and to administer its property in accordance with law, subject to public order, morality, and health.

Freedom as to the payment of taxes for the promotion of any particular religion

Article 27 allows for the non-payment of taxes, the earnings of which must be utilized solely to promote or maintain any religion or religious group. This article emphasizes the secular underpinning of the Constitution; it would be inappropriate to use public funds to foster and promote religious views. However, there is a distinction between taxes and fees. A tax collected is spent by the state for general administration, and no special service is provided to the payer. This is not the case with fees, which are imposed for any special service performed in exchange for payment and thus have an element of quid pro quo that taxes do not have. To distinguish fees from taxes, "there must be a co-relationship between the levy imposed and the expenditures made by the state for the purpose of offering such services," and fee collections must be maintained separate and not mingled with general income.

Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

Article 28(1) states that educational institutions that are entirely funded by the state may not disseminate religious instruction, but educational institutions that are formed under any endowment or trust and are solely governed by the state and require religious teaching may do so. 28 (3) states that no one is required to participate in any religious instruction or attend any worship in any educational institution recognized or receiving state funds unless he voluntarily chooses to do so or, in the case of a minor, consent of the guardian is available.

In Quareshi v. The State, an important argument emerged as to whether outlawing cow slaughter damaged Mahomedans' religious rights. The petitioner stated that the sacrifice of a cow on Bakri-Id day was part of the Muslim religion and was also sanctioned by the Khuran. However, the Supreme Court dismissed this position because there was insufficient evidence to sustain it.

It was decided in L. T. Swumiar v. Commr. H.R.F. Madras that even if a tax is levied on individuals adhering to a specific religion in order to fund the expenditures of that specific religion, such a tax is unlawful.


India has always been inherently secular, and it continues to strive to follow in the footsteps of its ancient past in order to preserve cultural and religious freedom. The western principle of secularism has no actual relevance in India, but the mere presence of the word "secular" is a great ideal to include, as it emphasizes Indians' commitment to diversity. The critique of the Essential Practice Test may have some merit; however, given India's immense religious variety, it is vital for the courts to judge problems of contention since they may escalate into larger calamities if left to the people to determine.

However, this test should be used only when there is a strong suspicion of a breach of the imposed constraints and should not be used to determine the importance of specific religious activities. The courts have strongly defended religious organizations’ autonomy in their founding and operation, and the state, although not micromanaging religious acts, may take an interest in the business side of it for a variety of reasons. The boundaries imposed by the state, the judiciary, and the people at large, as well as the sense of camaraderie, make India a unique and effective example of "unity in diversity," nourishing democracy even under adverse conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is meant by the right to religion?

Ans. Individuals have the right to practice any religion of their choice under the right to religious freedom. It also involves the right to change religion or beliefs.

Q2. How is the right to freedom of religion a guarantee of secularism under the Indian Constitution?

Ans. The aim of this right is to uphold the country's secularism concept. The state shall not favor one faith over another.

Q3. Why is Indian religious freedom important?

Ans. The constitution guarantees religious freedom and the right of all persons to freely profess, practice, and promote religion; demands a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and forbids religious discrimination.

Q4. What are the limitations to freedom of religion?

Ans. According to Article 18(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), freedom to display one's religion or views may be subject only to such limits as are specified by law and are essential to preserve public safety, order, health, or morality, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Updated on: 16-Feb-2023


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