Compulsory confession by Church does not violate right to privacy and freedom of religion of Church members, but is protected under Article 26 of the Constitution

Kerala High Court: A Division bench comprising of Hrishikesh Roy, Ag. C.J and A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar, J. while being seized of a civil writ petition challenging the practice of confessions by churches, held the same to be permissible as per rights guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution of India.

Petitioner, by virtue of his birth into a family that owes allegiance a respondent church, is a member of the said church and is obliged to adhere to the rituals and practices prescribed by it for attaining spiritual salvation. The sacrament of confession is one such ritual of the churches. The instant petition has been filed against apostolic churches (governed by Oriental Law) and Catholic churches (governed by Canon Law), averring that the practice of compulsory confession is unconstitutional, and making it a condition precedent for availing the spiritual and temporal rights by a Christian member of these churches violates their fundamental rights under Articles 21 and 25. It is contended that a member of the respondent churches, who does not turn up for confession lives in the apprehension of denial of spiritual and temporal needs. It is contended that the threat of undeclared sanction by church and isolation from society creates fear in the mind of members of these churches, thereby compelling a member to confess. Sin, being a private affair, a forced confession thereof amounts to deprivation of right to privacy and freedom guaranteed under Articles 21 and 25. In view of the aforesaid, petitioner prays for the continuance of his church membership without being forced to confess his sins.

The Court noted that Preamble to the Constitution and Article 25 grants liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and there is no compulsion on anyone to follow a particular mode of faith or worship. By expressing his disenchantment with the practice of confession, the petitioner had indicated that he did not want to adhere to the said ritual. However, he did not want to part with his membership since it would deprive him of certain privileges/ rights such as that of burial or baptism of his children. Though the court sympathized with the dilemma faced by the petitioner, it observed that his continuance as a member of the church was not on account of any compulsion. Just as he had a choice to embrace the religion or any facet of it, he has the choice to leave it for another. The court observed that Articles 25 and 26 guarantees freedom of religion and it is through the exercise of these very liberties that the petitioner had chosen to be and continued to be a member of the respondent church.

It was further held that respondent churches also had rights under Article 26 to manage their religious affairs and a declaration by Court that confession not be made a condition precedent, for the enjoyment of any spiritual and temporal rights as a member of the church, would amount to denial of the churches’ fundamental rights. The writ petition was dismissed observing that the petitioner’s predicament stemmed from his own uncertainty as to the path to be pursued for attaining spiritual salvation and such a dilemma could not be resolved through legal proceedings as there was no violation of any rights, whatsoever. [C.S. Chacko v. Union of India, 2018 SCC OnLine Ker 3497, decided on 02-08-2018]

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