The judgment revolves around the application of equality in places of worship.
This was an appeal by the trustees of the ancient and renowned temple of Sri Venkataramana of Moolky Petta, who was managing the temple on behalf of the Gowda SaraswathBrahmins in accordance with a Scheme framed in a suit under Section 92 of the Code of Civil Procedure. After the passing of the Madras Temple Entry Authorisation Act,1947which had for its object the removal of the disability of Harijans from entering into Hindu public temples, the trustees made a representation to the Government that the temple was a private one, and, therefore, outside the operation of the Act. But the Government did not accept that position and held that the Act applied to the temple. Challenging the decision of the government the appellants approached the trial Court stating that they have administrative independence under Article 26 as they form a separate denomination. However, the Court rejected their contention and held that, the Act covered all temples. Later this view was affirmed by the High Court but it also held that, the appellants has the right to exclude the general public during certain ceremonies in which the members of the denomination alonewere entitled to participate. However, the appellants approached the SC for complete exclusion.
The Indian Constitution:
Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by Part III
(1) The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
(2) The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III
Whether the right to manage religious affairs of a religious denomination can be overridden by right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution?
The petitioners contended that, it was an age-old practice of Gowda SaraswathBrahminsto conduct all the rituals and ceremonies in relation to the temple. Therefore, the temple and its devoteesconstitute a religious denomination and hence has independence in religious administration which confers upon them the right to decide who can enter the temple. Therefore the 1947 Act which takes away this right is unconstitutional to that extent.
The respondents contended that, the right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution confers the right on every individual to profess, practice and propagate their religious believes. Further the right under Article 25(2)(b) which specifies “throwing open of all Hindu religious institutions to all classes and sections of Hindus” protects the validity of the impugned Act. The Act completely protects the rights of every individual under Article 15 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste.
Upon hearing the parties to the case the Court affirmed the view of the HC and held that, a complete exclusion of general public will amount to violation of Article 25 therefore the temple authorities may be permitted to exclude general public only in those ceremonies which are integral in nature which are performed by the members of Gowda SaraswathBrahmins alone. Further the Court applied the principle of harmonious construction to resolve the dispute between Article 25 and 26.