ESSENTIAL RELIGIOUS PRACTICE TEST
What’s in news?
The Supreme Court decided to refer the Sabarimala temple case to a larger Bench will also re-evaluate the “essential religious practice test”.
In 2018, SC verdict was that, “the women have a fundamental right to equality in accessing public places which includes places of worship”.
- The Sabarimala temple case was referred to a larger 7-judge Bench, which reopens the debate on allowing women of menstruating age into the Ayyappa temple but
- Also, it would discuss the larger issue of whether any religion can bar women from entering places of worship.
- During this process, it would also re-evaluate the “essential religious practice test”.
- In this debate, the constitutional debate on gender equality will open up once again.
Doctrine of essentiality:
- The doctrine was invented by a seven-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in the ‘Shirur Mutt’ case in 1954.
- The term “religion” will cover all rituals and practices “integral” to a religion, and took upon itself the responsibility of determining the essential and non-essential practices of a religion.
- But in 1994, the constitutional bench held that, “a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open”.
- A contentious doctrine evolved by the court to protect only such religious practices which were essential and integral to the religion.
- It took upon itself the responsibility of determining the essential and non-essential practices of a religion.
- The essentiality/integrality doctrine has tended to lead the court into an area that is beyond its competence.
- It has also given judges the power to decide purely religious questions.
- This doctrine has been criticised by several constitutional experts who argue that the doctrine has tended to lead the court into an area that is beyond its competence, and given judges the power to decide purely religious questions.
- The essentiality test impinges on this autonomy. The apex court has itself emphasised autonomy and choice in its Privacy (2017), 377 (2018), and Adultery (2018) judgments.
- As a result, over the years, courts have been inconsistent on this question — in some cases they have relied on religious texts to determine essentiality, in others on the empirical behaviour of followers, and in yet others, based on whether the practice existed at the time the religion originated.
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