The Pakistan National Assembly has allowed the introduction of a bill to make a part of founding father Mohammed Ali Jinnah's 1947 speech, in which he said religion should have "nothing to do with business of the state", part of the constitution.
The move by MP Bhandara, a Parsi lawmaker, to introduce a private member's bill appeared to embarrass the government, even though President Pervez Musharraf has been striving to give Pakistan a liberal image.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Niazi opposed it arguing that nowhere in the world was a speech made part of the statute book.
He was also doubtful about a two-thirds majority support required for its inclusion.
However, the house approved Bhandara's measure with a loud "yes".
Although Jinnah had fought for creation of a nation for South Asia's Muslims, his speech on August 11, 1947, had visualised a liberal form of governance.
The speech has been invoked time and again to underline Pakistan's veering away from those ideals to become an Islamic country that has been intolerant of religious minorities.
"You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan," Jinnah had told the Constituent Assembly as its first president only three days before the country formally emerged as an independent state on August 14.
He had added: "You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to with business of the state."
The speech had kicked up a controversy in India two years ago when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stalwart LK Advani approvingly referred to it during his Pakistan visit. Advani, a former deputy prime minister, had to step down as BJP president following a furore over his comments.
Bhandara later told Dawn newspaper that he would be happy if the key portion of Jinnah's speech where he advocated a liberal polity was included.
Through the bill, he has sought to restore an "ideological balance" as envisioned by Jinnah, he said.
It should be inserted as Article 2-A of the Objectives Resolution, a substantive part of the constitution as passed by the Constitution Assembly in the 1950s, he added.
Admitting the bill, Speaker Chaudhry Amir Hussain referred it to a house standing committee, where it is likely to generate a lot of controversy.
According to the Dawn, the move faces "an uncertain fate as no party in the government or the opposition has yet to take a position on the draft".
It needs a two-thirds majority each in the 342-seat National Assembly and the 100-seat Senate to be passed.