The Andhra Pradesh High Court on Wednesday stayed a state government order providing financial assistance to Christians for pilgrimage to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and other places connected with the life of Jesus Christ.
While staying the order issued last year, a division bench headed by Chief Justice A.R. Dave ruled that the government should not spend public money for any pilgrimage.
The court order came on a public interest litigation challenging the constitutional validity of the order issued by the minorities welfare department on July 21 last year.
The petitioner argued that a secular state cannot fund pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other holy places. He contended that the Indian Constitution in Article 266 clearly states how the funds of state could be spent.
Under the order, the state government had announced a financial assistance of Rs.20,000 to each Christian pilgrim undertaking seven-day tour to Jordan and Israel.
The first batch of 51 Christian pilgrims had undertaken the pilgrimage with the government assistance in November last year. The total cost of the pilgrimage was Rs.56,000 for each pilgrim.
The pilgrimage includes visit to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Jordan River, Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee and other important places connected with the life of Jesus Christ.
The state government had allocated Rs.20 million for the purpose in the 2008-09 budget.