Right to religion not above right to life: HC

The Madras HC has asserted that the right to religion is not higher than the right to life. “Religious rights are subject to public interest and the right to life,” the HC said. If the state decides to take some action by restricting religious functions during the pandemic, we (court) cannot interfere, the first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said.

The court made the observations while hearing a PIL moved by Rangarajan Narasimhan alleging that religious functions and rites that ought to be conducted at Trichy Srirangam Temple are not conducted as per the sacred texts but according to the whims and fancies of the Hindu religious and charitable endowments department.

The petitioner wanted the court to direct the state government to constitute a committee comprising religious heads to decide the manner in which such functions should be conducted. The bench said that when the government imposes certain restrictions to protect the life and health of the public, the same must be adhered to. However, if such religious functions can be performed with minimal participation of the public, the same can be done after following the Covid-19 protocol, the court added.

Concurring, the petitioner said there are ways prescribed in the “shastras” to conduct functions in a minimal way. But only religious leaders, who are well-versed with the shastras, can suggest the same, not the joint commissioner or executive officer of the department, he said.

Representing the authorities, senior advocate Satish Parasaran submitted that all mandatory religious functions are conducted by adhering to Covid-19 standard operating procedures. The court directed the authorities to consult the religious leaders concerned as to how festivities would be conducted. However, hygiene and Covid-19 protocol cannot be compromised to conduct such functions, the court added.

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