This policy has been released on 29 April 2009 for public comment.
Please note that FTI releases the same policy on two blogs.
a) The first blog (this one) is for public comment, through the comments box at the bottom of this blog. All FTI policies will remain drafts until formally agreed to by at least 1500 FTI leaders in the coming years. Your comments will inform the development of these policies, but it will not always be feasible for FTI members to directly debate with you on this blog.
b) On the second blog (here) only FTI members are able to comment, but you are invited to read the discussions on that blog. The reason why the ‘FTI member only’ blog is in the public domain is to give you a broad sense of how this policy was arrived at how it is evolving. Every new FTI member has FULL rights to influence the policy.
1. The significance of religious freedom and tolerance
a) Members of FTI believe that religion is a purely personal matter, not a matter for government policy.
b) We also believe that religious freedom is a fundamental personal freedom; a matter of choice for each citizen. Therefore, FTI neither promotes any religion or religious activity nor opposes it unless it trespasses other’s liberties.
c) In a free society, everyone can enjoy religious freedom only by giving others similar freedom. This means tolerating (and accommodating in good faith, to the extent possible) all religious beliefs. It also includes ensuring that each citizen has the right to preach his or her religion (or not religion) and convert others to his or her beliefs.
d) But religious freedom, like all other freedoms, must be accompanied by its matching accountability. We must not harm others through our religious (or non-religious) activities. We must all remain accountable for our actions.
e) FTI is proud of India’s great history of religious tolerance. We would like India to continue to lead the world in showing how the people of all religions can happily co-exist together..
2. The need to keep the state and religion separate
a) FTI advocates the complete and total separation of the state and religion. Our religious and political goals are different domains and should not be allowed to mix. Note that this does mean the state must be secular; it is best to see it as non-denominational, and tasked with a different job to that of religion.
b) In particular, the role of government is to make and enforce laws which specify our accountabilities. While these laws can be based on precepts of morality, and should, indeed, be compatible with ethical principles, they are meant to clarify our accountabilities and do not aim to represent any particular (such as religious) moral view. All that the state asks for from the citizen is for him or her to comply with laws; the state does not preach morality which is not its domain of expertise.
c) In this vein, we believe that political groups which promote particular religions harm society by harking to particular views of the law, and thus they emphasise our divisions rather than unity under the law. FTI condemns all political organisations that want specific a religion to inform public policy
d) While debates among different religions are a natural part of free society (so long as these are conducted in a non-violent environment), the government can have nothing to say about the merits of the content of these debates .
e) Making political claims based on religion can often provoke or lead to violence. A government’s job is to come down heavily on individuals and organizations that advocate or use violence, irrespective of the basis of their advocacy – including religion.
f) FTI is not disrespectful of religion. It simply asks that people politics and religions separate. In doing so, it recognises that in a society like India, steeped deeply in religion, even ordinary greetings (e.g. namaste) could at times take on a religious meaning. Many official functions in India are opened with lighting earthen lamps or breaking coconuts. Other common practices include applying tika or welcoming guests with garlands. FTI is happy for these practices to continue without attributing religious motivations to them. However, dealing with them could require good judgement on the part of government functionaries. For instance, when a government representative (e.g. a Minister) attends an actual religious event, he or she must not use official titles, and speak on that occasion purely as a private individual.
g) FTI notes that religions often specify matters such as marriage and divorce . These are to be treated as personal law because these things involve the most intimate unit of human existence, the family. FTI believes that families should be able to structure themselves freely without, however, violating the life and liberties of members of the family. Subject to such constraints, religious requirements that apply to families are outside the scope of a government’s jurisdiction. The government, for instance, cannot enact ‘religious laws’ (e.g. Hindu Laws or Muslim Laws) but only make generic rules that apply to everyone uniformly, such as minimum standards that everyone must comply with (see Section 3).
h) Clearly, this means that a government cannot financially support religious activities. For instance, subsidies for Durga Puja on the ground that these will increase tourism in a particular city are not admissible expenditures from the public purse, since they effectively fund a particular religion. Similarly, subsidies for religious pilgrimages such as for the Haj. or temple management by government functionaries is not acceptable in a free society.
i) FTI believes that a government must be ‘religion-blind’, ‘caste-blind’, ‘tribe-blind’, ‘language-blind’. In particular, a government has no cause to recognise ‘minorities’ as a specific category using religious (or related) classifications. Indeed, if everyone has equal freedom, then a separate category of ‘minority’ rights are not needed. A strong defence of liberty and the uniform enforcement of laws, as well as the provision of equal opportunity for all would ensure that no minority could harbour any fear from any majority. However, until the rule of law is well-established in India, FTI recommends preservation of Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution, while ensuring that no subsidisation of any religious or other minority takes place.
3. The role of the state in regulating the ‘excesses’ of religion
While not involving itself in any religious matter, as clarified above, a government must establish and enforce rules of accountability to ensure equal justice and liberty to all citizens. For instance:
a) FTI believes that India must enact uniform minimum standards of accountability for all citizens. This will ensure that all citizens receive equal justice and equal liberty. While not a Uniform Civil Code, it would effectively mean that uniform standards of accountability apply to all. As a corollary, all specific personal laws and religious laws enacted would need to be repealed and substituted by a single Law of Minimum Standards to protect everyone’s life and liberty. These standards would include prohibitions against social ills like sati, child marriage, etc.
b) All religions have legitimate rights to compete for loyalty and seek to extend their influence. To the extent such activities lead to conversion, the state has an interest in ensuring that no coercion, bribes, or misleading conduct is involved in the process. FTI would ask religious bodies to come up with self-regulatory (and binding) Code of Practice by which all religions will ensure that misleading conduct is eliminated. This Code should have provisions for concerns, if any, from any affected party to be adequately addressed.
c) Religious freedom is not license It does not give anyone any rights to encroach on public land, harbour criminals and terrorists, harass or threaten those carrying on civilized discourse, or otherwise create public nuisance such as by feeding stray animals, fouling rivers and ponds, and disturbing peace by blaring loudspeakers at unseemly hours. FTI believes that religions are as accountable as anyone else to maintain order and public calm. No religious organisation should disturb the public order. Illustrative regulations are outlined below.
- FTI believes that all religious activity in the common spaces of society must be regulated for public order and discipline. This means, for instance, that religious symbols should be on permanent display only in private property that is owned by relevant private individuals or organizations.
- FTI believes that while any religious group should be fully entitled to buy land and build an appropriate structure on it, this should be done keeping the general tenor of the ambience, and in any event, no religious structure should be built on public spaces like roads. If such structures are detected on public land, these must be respectfully removed and handed over to suitable religious organisations where these structures can be rehabilitated.
- On a similar ven, while it valid to hold religious events in public spaces, on payment of appropriate fee as may be admissible to any civil society organisation, they must fully comply with the conditions of behaviour set out by the government, particularly where security is demanded at public expense.
- In particular, just as no private citizen is allowed to use amplifiers at certain hours, so also religions occasions or announcements cannot be exempt from such regulation.