An incisive study concerning the religious freedom and right to conversion must necessarily begin with what is meant by religion and the contrariety of the perceptions as to the contours of the freedom, the extent of the restrictions on the right to change the religion.
There is no consensus as to the definition of religion. Etymologically, the expression religion is the combination of the two Latin expressions “re” meaning back and “ligare” meaning to bind.1 According to Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary religion means a belief binding the spiritual nature of man to a super natural being as involving a feeling of dependence and responsibility, together with the feelings and practices which naturally flow from such a belief.
Swami Vivekananda said:
“religion as it is generally taught all over the world, is said to be based upon faith and belief and in most cases consists only of different sects of theories and that is the reason why we find all religions quarrelling with one another. These theories are again based upon faith and belief”2.
According to sage Aurobindo, the quest of man for God is the foundation for religion and its essential function is “the search for God and the finding of God”3.
Sir Julian Huxley, a renowned Scientist who synthesized philosophy with science and religion, said that “religion is the product of a certain type of interaction between man and his environment.”
All the three great religions of our country — Hinduism, Islam and Christianity — recognize the existence of God. To Christians their religion is a system of faith and worship, to Muslims Islam is a way of life encompassing all aspects of life. Hinduism defies comparison with other religions. It is sui generis. The Supreme Court said: “… Unlike other religions, the Hindu religion does not claim any one Prophet; it does not worship any one God; it does not subscribe any one dogma; it does not believe in any one philosophic concept; it does not follow any one set of religious rites or performances; in fact it does not appear to satisfy the narrow traditional features of any religion or creed. It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more”4. Although the common understanding about Hinduism is that it is founded on pantheism, it was recognized that the belief in the Supreme being is the foundation on which the entire edifice of Hinduism rests. In the words of Dr Radhakrishnan the main aim of the Hindu faith is to permit image worship as a means to the development of the religious spirit, to the recognition of the Supreme who has His temple in all beings5
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Note: This article was first published in Practical Lawyer 2003 PL WebJour 19. It has been reproduced with the kind permission of Eastern Book Company.
* Former C.J. of High Court of H.P. It is an abridged version of the Alladi Memorial Lecture held at Hyderabad on 22-3-2003