In a case of using private property for Christian prayers without obtaining proper permission, the Madras High Court has ruled that religious rights cannot be absolute when they impact the rights of others. One T.Wilson had appealed against the district administration’s action of sealing his prayer hall alleging that it was done based on a ‘false’ complaint filed by ‘persons with communal feelings’.
From what Bar and Bench has reported, the petitioner ran a Pentecostal church under the name Word of God Ministries Trust and conducted prayers in a private property without getting approval from the district administration to use it for religious purposes. As per the court’s observation, the prayer services started with a few hours of prayers for a few days in a week and proceeded to become a full fledged congregation with prayers being held from 9am to 12 pm everyday.
Apart from this they used mics and speakers and brought people from other areas for the congregations. The court remarked that in fact the church, “in the guise of conducting prayer meetings, is actually having a full-fledged prayer hall intended for religious purposes where huge congregations take place,”. The court also observed that once large crowds gather for prayer at such places ‘the nature of the building changes’ as it serves as a public place of worship and thus needs to obtain permission under relevant rules to operate as such.
This is an existing rule which the evangelists don’t pay heed to. And so such prayer halls are a menace in areas where evangelists, especially Pentecostals are infested. They begin with a rented room, even a shed in some cases, bring people from outside, start bothering the locals by creating nuisance, and finally bully them into ‘accepting Christ’ to be left to live in peace. Hindu Post in the past has covered such instances among which the plight of Badagas, a minority community in Tamil Nadu mainly living in Coimbatore was one.
Badagas of a village in Nilgiri were harassed by the evangelists for not converting through means such as disturbing the children who were preparing for 12th standard public examination and in the middle of the night by playing Christian theological songs on speakers. They also harassed the kids to join their prayer session. Such incidents are prevalent throughout the state as they are empowered legally through Article 25 and financially through FCRA dollars.
However Hindu organisations such as Hindu Munnani, VHP and Hindu Makkal Katchi often file complaints when they come across prayer halls that operate in houses, commercial spaces, etc without obtaining permission to use them for religious purposes. This specific case of Word of God Ministries Trust seems to be one such case where the court took to quoting from their own religious book, the Bible, to point out how such prayer halls impinge the rights of others. The court pointed out that “Bible did not profess a prayer to be done or conducted in a manner that would warrant gathering of people and usage of amplifiers”.
Despite assuring that the property won’t be used as a prayer hall in the future the court refused to allow it for usage without permission from the district administration citing the fact that the petitioner lied in the past about the same. This ruling could help the Hindu activists in curbing the menace of illegal prayer halls. But it depends on how eager the police department is about enforcing the same.
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