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'Individual free to keep religious belief secret'

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Shimla, August 31, 2012
First Published: 00:11 IST(31/8/2012) | Last Updated: 00:13 IST(31/8/2012)

Holding that citizens had right to keep their religious beliefs secret, the Himachal Pradesh high court on Thursday struck down a provision of a state law that required persons intending to convert to inform the district magistrate a month in advance.

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"A State has no right to ask a person to disclose what is his personal belief," a bench of justice Deepak Gupta and justice Rajiv Sharma said declaring Section 4 of the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 that made it punishable for a person intending to convert not to give prior notice to the district magistrate.

It also declared unconstitutional Rules 3 and 5 framed under that Act that dealt with the procedural aspects of this provision, saying these violated the principles of equality enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution.

If anyone converted to a different faith of own will, the state had no role to play, but if the conversion was because of force, fraud, or inducement, and it threatened the secular fabric of India, law could prevent it, the HC said.

The court, however, dismissed the plea of Evangelical Fellowship of India and Act Now For Democracy (ANHAD) to declare unconstitutional the whole Act that aims at checking conversion by use of force, fraud or inducement.

Holding that every citizen has a right not only to follow his own belief but also has a right to change his belief, the HC said, there was no fundamental right to convert others.

"Indian society has not discriminated against any religion or thought. At the same time, we cannot permit religions, which advance proselytization  and encourage conversions, to carry out conversions by "force", "fraud" or inducement"…The word of God cannot be spread either through the sword or by the use of money power," the high court said.


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