Bombay High Court: In a landmark judgment, a division bench of Hon’ble A.S. Oka and Hon’ble Revati Mohite Dere, JJ ruled that an atheist cannot be forced to fold his hands during prayer at school. If an individual is of the view that the prayers have religion overtone or are religious in nature and are not consistent with his own religion or his beliefs, then forcing him to sing the prayers or forcing him to fold his hands when the prayers are being sung would be a clear violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India of the freedom of speech and expression as well as the freedom of conscience.
In the present case, the petitioner is an atheist teacher who had refused to fold his hands during prayer and consequently on grounds of indiscipline had not been given higher pay scale as was due to him. He had contended that in a state funded school there should be no religious instruction. The Court after going through the prayers came to the decision that there was nothing religious about the prayers but nevertheless the petitioner had a freedom of conscience and he cannot be compelled to change his belief that the prayers are religious in nature and to stand with folded hands when the prayers are being sung