The Madras High Court on Friday voiced concern over religious leaders demeaning other religions while quashing FIRs lodged against a Christian evangelist, Mohan C Lazarus, for his reckless statements against Hindu temples and Hindu Gods (Mohan C Lazarus v. The State and anr).
The FIRs were quashed after the evangelist tendered an unconditional apology in the matter.
The case prompted Justice N Anand Venkatesh to express strong opinions against religious leaders claiming that their religion is superior to others.
“The whole object of religion is to enable humans to evolve themselves into better beings…. Unfortunately, in many instances, people get blindly attached to their religious beliefs and tend to make demeaning statements against other religions. They do not realise that spirituality is not a medium through which each religion competes with each other to show its superiority over the other,” Justice Venkatesh observed.
While the people making such reckless statements may believe that this would make their religious beliefs superior, the Court opined that this is not the purpose of religion and religious faiths.
“Spewing venom against another religious faith and developing hatred among the followers of a particular religion against another, defies the very purpose of religion, which is meant to help a human being evolve towards higher truths,” the Court said.
Religious leaders must realise their responsibilities and exercise more caution while propagating their religion, the Court emphasised.
“If this is not followed, it will spell danger to the secular fabric of this country. It may even lead to eroding one of the basic structures of our Constitution,” it added.
Upon being notified of the apology tendered in court by Lazarus, the complainants in the matter left it to the Court decide on how to deal with the case, adding that they only required assurance that Lazarus would not indulge in making such insensitive statements affecting the religious sentiments in the future.
The Court, in turn, expressed strong disapproval over the statements made by the evangelist in this case.
“The Petitioner is not involved in some competitive business. Therefore, he is not warranted to make statements merely to show his religion in superior light than that of others’. If the Petitioner has any such notions, it is high time that he changes himself for his own good and that of his followers,” Justice Venaktesh said.
He further emphasised that religious leaders or those involved in the propagation of religions have a responsibility against making reckless statements. Reckless statements made by persons such as the petitioner in this case would only sow the seeds of hatred across people of different religions, the Court observed.
“This Court holds a strong view that as persons capable of influencing large sections of the society that is driven by its religious sentiments, one needs to be extremely cautious and conscientious in exercising their rights, be it one of expression, religion or any other right. It cannot be at the cost of injuring the sentiments and rights of other fellow citizens who also form a constituent part of the rich culture and value system that our nation embodies. This Court would not hesitate to say that it is in fact the fundamental duty cast upon every citizen to ‘preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture’, and that such heritage and culture cannot be at any circumstance seen as one independent of the religious, cultural and civilizational sentiments that have been rooted, ingrained and etched in the history, soul and spirit of this nation”, the judgment further said.
The Court also made pertinent observations on the Indian concept of secularism which calls for equal tolerance for all religions. Indian Secularism is not one that is anti-religious but one that gives to all its citizens equal freedom of conscience and religion, the Court reiterated.
However, Justice Venkatesh voiced concern that Indian society has fallen into the hands of misconceptions in the name of religion.
“...(it is) the need of the hour to acknowledge and call aloud that we as a society have fallen and are falling into the hands of misconceptions and extremities in the name of securing and practicing our respective religious beliefs. These extremities have always known to incite hatred, violence, bloodshed and bitterness across history.”
He added that the failure to practice tolerance would only lead to the alienation of one’s fellow citizens and that the same is likely to have a cascading effect on other factors crucial to maintaining peace, order, and brotherhood in the State.
Having cautioned Lazarus, however, the Court ultimately quashed the FIRs against him after taking into consideration that the complainants were also agreeable to giving the evangelist another chance to change his attitude.
In an affidavit presented earlier this week, the founder of ‘Jesus Redeems Ministry’ had expressed “deep regret and sincere remorse” over his remarks.
“I make it immensely clear that it was never my intention to defy either the sacred places of Hindus or their Gods or any other faith for that matter. Yet, I feel with much remorse that my words had led to such kind of impressions among the Hindus. I assure that I would take adequate care so as to avoid such occurrences in future.”
The FIRs filed against him cited Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion etc.), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 505 (public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.
In quashing the FIRs today, the High Court has also quoted an excerpt from the Bible ‘Do not judge, so that you will not be judged’, to add that this sermon reveals “that the religion or its ideals do not intend to, under any circumstances, incite its followers to judge or demean another religion for the purpose of its own growth and propagation.”