11th October 2014
Streamlined draft religious freedom policy for SKC agenda – for further comment
Here's a slightly streamlined religious freedom policy – for comment.
Every person must have the freedom to seek the truth, form beliefs and live according to the dictates of their conscience —whether at home, in worship, or at work. Indians should be free to care for the poor, heal the sick and serve their communities in accordance with the faith without unnecessary government interference. The right to live, work and worship according to one’s faith is a foundational freedom.
The government should not infringe on the free exercise of religion. The state and religion are different domains, with entirely different purposes. Religious belief is not a matter for government policy.Under no circumstances should the state make any law about or against religion. No religious activity can be opposed by the state unless it trespasses other’s liberties. This does not mean the state must be secular – a word with often unclear meaning. We require the state to be non-denominational, tasked with a job entirely different to that of religion.
Debates among different religions (conducted in a non-violent environment) are a natural part of free society, but the government – a servant of the people with limited obligations – has no business to recognise any religion nor comment on the merits of the content of any religion.
Some claims based on religion can provoke or lead to violence. A government must come down heavily on all advocacy or use of violence, irrespective of the basis of such advocacy.
The government must be ‘religion-blind’, ‘caste-blind’, ‘tribe-blind’, ‘language-blind’. A government has therefore no cause to recognise ‘religious minorities’. If everyone has equal freedom, ‘minority’ rights are not needed. However, until the rule of law is fully established in India, we will preserve Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution.
We recognise that in India even greetings can take on a religious connotation. Many official events open by breaking a coconut or lighting earthen lamps. Guests may have tika applied or welcomed with garlands. Many such practices are cultural and do not involve religious implications. To avoid confusion, where any party elected representative attends a religious event, he or she will scrupulously abjure use any official title and speak as a private individual. No costs can be charged to taxpayers for attending such an event.
Flowing from the above strict separation between religion and the state, the state must not interfere in people’s religious beliefs and affairs. Religious freedom is a fundamental freedom, a matter of fundamental choice. We can enjoy our religious freedom only by giving others similar freedom. This means tolerating all religious beliefs (and accommodating them in good faith, to the extent possible).
No state funding of religious institutions or activities
Following from the principle of separation, a government must not financially support religious activities. For instance, subsidies for Durga Puja on grounds that these increase tourism are not admissible expenditures, since they involve funding a particular religion. Similarly, subsidies for religious pilgrimages such as for the Haj or temple management by government functionaries is not acceptable. Government is often asked to step in where a temple’s organisation becomes defunct or temple property reverts to the state. We will develop a system to auction such property to avoid the government getting involved in any religious activity.
No freedom of religious institutions to encroach on public land
Religious freedom does not, however, give anyone a right to encroach on public land, harbour criminals and terrorists, harass or threaten those carrying on civilized discourse, or otherwise create public nuisance such as by feeding stray animals, fouling rivers and ponds, or disturbing the peace by blaring loudspeakers at unseemly hours.
We will ensure that no religious structure encroaches public land. Any structures will be respectfully removed and handed over to suitable religious organisations whereupon these structures can be rehabilitated in appropriate private property.
Policy regarding conversion
Religious freedom, like all other freedoms, must be accompanied by matching accountability. Although freedom of speech includes the right to preach and convert others, it must be done through legitimate persuasion methods. We oppose attempts to convert people to different religions through coercion, bribes, or misleading conduct. This does not mean creating any law in this regard, but encouraging religious organisations to agree a self-regulatory code of practice that establishes minimum standards for such activity. We will repeal and/or declare unconstitutional any law that prevents conversion, such as by ‘force, allurement, inducement or fraud’, while leaving enormous discretion with the authorities for interpreting such terms. Only a self-regulatory regime can deal with the sensitivity and complexity of such matters, while preserving the freedom of religion of all Indians.