Related Topic in KAS Prelims Syllabus:
Indian Constitution [Paper-I]: Indian Constitution and its salient features, Judiciary in India
- Supreme Court (SC) has decided to refer the Sabarimala temple case to a larger 7-judge Bench.
- The larger Bench reference will also re-evaluate the “essential religious practice test”, a contentious doctrine evolved by the court to protect only such religious practices which were essential and integral to the religion.
What is the SC’s doctrine of essentiality?
- The doctrine was invented by a seven-judge Bench of the SC in the ‘Shirur Mutt’ case in 1954.
- The court held that 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.
- The ‘essentiality doctrine’ of the Supreme Court was criticised by several constitutional experts.
- Scholars of constitutional law have argued that the essentiality/integrality 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.
- 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.
- Experts also argue that while the essentiality test privileges certain practices over others, in fact, it is all practices taken together that constitute a religion.