Indian Court Suppresses Part of Anti-conversion Law

High Court Protects Freedom of Conscience

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NEW DELHI, India, SEPT. 3, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Some parts of an anti-conversion law in the northern Indian state of Hhimachal Pradesh have been declared unconstitutional. 

The state’s High Court declared that, "a person not only has the right to freedom of conscience, the right to profess one's faith, the right to change faith, but also has the right to keep secret one's beliefs," according to a news report published by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

The Bishops’ Conference report described the decision as “a landmark ruling.” The judgment came as a result of an appeal filed in 2011 by a group of Christian organizations that had challenged the "Law on Religion" issued in 2006 and which came into force in 2007.

The Court held that "Section 4 of the measure and Articles 3 and 5 of the document violate constitutional provisions." These rules made free conversion from one religion to another illegal, only allowing it after a long process, including investigation and authorization by a magistrate.

Section 4 obliged people to notify the authorities within 30 days of one's intention to convert to a religion other than Hinduism. Rules 3 and 5 required the state to investigate conversions.

The Global Council of Indian Christians, welcomed the judgment and thanked the lawyers of different religions who were engaged in the appeal.

Fr. Dominic D'Abrio, spokesman for the Episcopal Conference of India, told the Fides news agency that: "It is a very positive step, Christians will benefit greatly. The ruling could set a precedent and have a domino effect, encouraging other appeals against anti-conversion laws of the same kind in force in other states of the Indian Federation."

The first state to pass a law which bans conversions was in Orissa in 1967, followed by Madhya Pradesh in 1968 and Arunachal Pradesh in 1978. The government of the Hindu nationalist party "Bharatiya Janata Party" (BJP) introduced it in Gujarat in 2003 and in Chhattisgarh in 2006, the year after it also came into force in Himachal Pradesh. 

For Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, the ruling "upheld and protected the constitution" and recognized that everyone has "a right to choose his or her religion."