Pakistan’s very genesis is grounded in the protection of religious rights of all
The Constitution confers the right not only to profess and practice religion but also to have the right to propagate religion to others.
Something we clearly need reminding of.
In his famous essay “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill writes that “the great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible right, and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for his religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realised, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theologically quarrels, has added its weight to the scale.”
The freedom of religion and conscience has been protected in several treaties and declarations. Article 18 of the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 provides that every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that this right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
Religion has played an important role in human history, and faith has influenced the minds and actions of individuals, societies and nations down the ages. The freedom of religion must then be construed liberally to include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief and faith. Freedom, individual autonomy and rationality characterise liberal democracies and the individual freedoms thus flowing from the freedom of religion must not be curtailed by attributing an interpretation of the right to religious belief and practice exclusively as a community-based freedom.
The protection of the freedom of religious belief and practice of all communities was indeed the predominant right asserted in several propositions and resolutions passed by the All India Muslim League. One of the famous Fourteen Points enumerated by Mohammad Ali Jinnah on proposed constitutional changes was “full religious liberty, i.e. liberty of belief, worship and observance, propaganda, association and education shall be guaranteed to all communities.”
Thus the very genesis of Pakistan is grounded in the protection of the religious rights of all, especially those of minorities.
The right to religious conscience being a fundamental right is not subject to any other provision of the Constitution. It is only subject to law, public order and morality and not to any religious clauses of the Constitution of Pakistan. The very term “law, public order and morality” has been used in non-religious terms as the notion of law or public order or morality is not reducible to the Islamic meanings of these terms. There is a general lack of awareness in Pakistan about minority rights. Even the people and those entrusted with enforcement of law are also not fully sensitised to this issue. It needs to be reiterated that under the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, minorities have a special status. Of all the Articles relating to the minorities’ rights, Article 20 is of prime significance. It would be counter intuitive if the right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 20 is interpreted in the manner which has the effect of encroaching upon religious freedoms of minority religions in Pakistan. As per Article 251 of the constitution, any section of citizens having a distinct language, script or culture shall have the right to preserve and promote the same and subject to law, establish institutions for that purpose.
Article 20 does not merely confer a private right to profess but confers a right to practice both privately and publicly. Besides, it confers the additional right not only to profess and practice religion but also to have the right to propagate religion to others. The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities and the ultimate goal of the state should be to eradicate religious intolerance in Pakistan.