Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act: SC notice on plea against HC order

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The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice on a plea by Gujarat government, challenging the state high court’s order, staying the operation of certain sections of the Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, including the provision terming interfaith marriages as means for forceful conversion.

A bench of Justices Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari, after hearing arguments from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the state government, issued notice on the appeal by the state government. According to counsel involved in the matter, Mehta did not press for a stay on the order.

The Gujarat government contended that Section 5 of the Act, which was stayed, impacts cases where inter-religious marriages have been solemnised by a person without force, or fraudulent means.

It was argued that there is no fundamental right to convert a person to another religion and the provision requiring permission from the District Magistrate for converting a person’s religion, cannot be said to be affecting fundamental rights in any manner.

The two petitions – one filed by the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and the other by Ahmedabad resident, Mujahid Nafees – in the high court challenged the amended Act claiming the law is manifestly arbitrary and violates the right to privacy.

The high court, in its order passed on 19 August last year, said: “We are therefore of the opinion that pending further hearing, the rigours of Sections 3, 4, 4A to 4C, 5, 6 and 6A, shall not operate merely because marriage is solemnised by person of one religion with another without force, or allurement or fraudulent means and such marriages cannot be termed as marriages for the purpose of unlawful conversion.”

The high court refused also refused to modify its earlier order, as state’s counsel argued that Section 5 of the Act was unrelated to marriage and only related to permission for conversion.

20220214-181201

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