The fundamental rights guaranteed under part III of the Constitution of India provide the right to freely practice, profess and propagate one’s own religion. Yet, the courts across the country are regularly flooded with a plethora of cases putting these very rights at a constant conflict with the faith of the people.
The High Court of Kerela in a recent judgement in Qualified Private Medical vs Union Of India (2020) dismissed the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Qualified Medical Practitioners Association which consists of modern medical doctors who were contending that the practice of administering holy sacrament, known as Eucharist, poses serious health hazard to the public at large. The Court upheld the right of the Christians to practice their religious faith.
The main contention by the petitioners was against the manner in which the practice of the holy sacrament is conducted. To commemorate the lasting supper of Jesus Christ, the priests serve wine from a single chalice using the same spoon that is put into the mouth of every person attending the mass. They also distribute bread along with it by hand. Neither the spoon, nor the hands are washed in between each handing out. This gives an alarming rise to the possibility and communication of infectious diseases. They prayed for the Food Safety Authority to inculcate hygienic practices into this ritual to ensure public safety.
Chief Justice S. Manikumar and Justice Shaji P. Chaly observed that this practice of individuals belonging to a certain religious denomination choosing to partake in the holy sacrament was well within their right of personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. They are completely entitled to follow and profess the religion of their choice and practice any ritual that is part of that particular religion.
While dismissing the petition, the Court noted that freedom to practice any religion is an integral part of our Constitution. The petitioners could not satisfactory justify why this practice went against public morality, order and health. Therefore, to prohibit the Christians from doing so, would be a gross violation of Art. 26. Thus, this writ was dismissed going with the spirit of the Constitution.
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Link to judgment: Qualified Private Medical Practitioners v. Union of India