Atheism has been a part of India for centuries, with some prominent schools of Indian philosophy exercising and propagating it, but it is become of more relevance today than ever before as it has spread to the mainstream population. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, atheism is ‘a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods’. Leaders like Periyar E V Ramasamy, Bhagat Singh and Ram Manohar Lohia were very vocal about their atheism. There are no specific laws dealing with atheism but Article 25 of the constitution provides for “freedom of conscience”.

Atheist Certificate High Court Chandigarh
Atheist Certificate High Court Chandigarh

Recently, a petition was filed by Ravi Kumar ‘Atheist’, who resides in Tohana, Fatehabad (in Haryana) for the issuance of a certificate declaring him an atheist. But the High Court for the states of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh recently held that no certificate would be issued by law to a person claiming to be an atheist for the declaration of the same, i.e. no certificate declaring a person ‘atheist’ (not believing in any caste, religion or god) can be asked for from the court of law.

Facts of the Case
Ravi Kumar, who had already engaged in a lengthy legal battle to use ‘atheist’ as his last name, insisted on being issued a ‘no caste, no religion, no caste’ certificate by the Fatehabad district administration in April this year. He was issued a certificate by the naib tehsildar that declared him an ‘atheist’, but the same was cancelled by the district authorities, after which Ravi Kumar filed a petition against it in the High Court.

Justice Tejinder Singh Dhindsa dismissed his petition saying that the issuance of such a certificate is of no consequence even if it has been issued by the naib tehsildar. The honourable justice did not issue any directions on the issue but observed that Article 25 of the constitution of India ensured freedom of religion to an individual, which includes his freedom to not believe in any religion.

Article 25 of the constitution states that:

Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law
(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;
(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus Explanation I The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion Explanation II In sub clause (b) of clause reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly

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