Justice N Anand Venkatesh made this observation while dismissing a plea moved by T Wilson of Kanniyakumari claiming that the district administration was interfering with his constitutional right by acting on frivolous and false complaints based on communal feelings against conducting prayer meetings in his premises.
However, the court held that the photographs submitted substantiated that the house was actually used as a place of public worship without permission. “The petitioner, who claims himself to be a devout Christian, has travelled far away from the truth. He is attempting to portray as if the premise is being used only for group prayers while it is being used for huge public gatherings for public worship,” the court held, while making clear that even religious right could not be claimed to be absolute.
“In the present case, the right of worship claimed by the petitioner directly impacts the rights of his neighbours as explained in the report of the Collector. Once the prayer meeting assumes such larger proportions resulting in public worship, attended by huge crowds, the very nature of the building changes, and it has to be construed as a prayer hall entertaining public worship. Consequently, the same would require obtaining necessary permission under the relevant rules,” the judge held.
On the petitioner’s claim that congregational prayer was an essential and integral practice in Christianity, Justice Anand Venkatesh said the Bible did not profess a prayer to be done or conducted in a manner that would warrant gathering of people and usage of amplifiers.
The court also refused to acknowledge the petitioner’s undertaking that the building would not be used as a prayer hall for public worship on the basis that this only showed that it was put to such use in the past and the court could not repose any faith in him. The petitioner can conduct such prayer meetings only after due permission from the authorities, the court held.