Delhi Govt. measure violative of Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution, says petition
A petition has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking to relax the curbs imposed on all religious gatherings by the Delhi Government across the Capital in view of the pandemic and to permit services in churches for Christmas and New Year subject to adherence to COVID-19 protocol.
The petition filed by Kamlesh Jacob, a senior citizen and an educationist, said she was aggrieved by the orders of the Delhi Government which completely prohibited religious gatherings in the city on the eve of Christmas “all of a sudden without any prior notice”.
Bars, theatres allowed
The plea, filed through advocates Manoj V. George, Shilpa Liza George, Akriti Seth, Amit Kumar and Palak Arora, argued that the Delhi Government, while permitting bars, restaurants, auditoriums, etc. to function with 50% capacity and theatres to run with 100% capacity, has completely barred religious gatherings.
This, Ms. Jacob argued was violative of Article 14 of the Constitution along with the right to freedom of religion to profess and practice, as envisaged and guaranteed under the Constitution.
“All ardent devotees of Christianity who have been undergoing lent season for the last 25 days have been prohibited in Delhi from attending chapel masses on the eve of Christmas but the citizens are allowed to have gala dinners and commercial activities and shopping etc. in Christmas,” the petition said.
It said the selective exclusion of religious places of worship is in violation of constitutional principles.
The petition said that the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) on December 15 issued a circular prohibiting religious gatherings completely, in view of COVID-19, but permitted religious worship places to function as per COVID-19 protocol. Later, the Delhi Government on December 22 issued a circular directing all District Magistrates to strictly ensure compliance with COVID-19 protocol, prohibiting all gatherings or congregations for celebrating Christmas and New Year, the plea said.
The Delhi Government’s circular extended the curbs to gatherings for celebrating Christmas or New Year in Delhi “thus bringing carol services and other Christmas-related worship under its umbrella”.
“It is needless to point out that Christmas being the only festival celebrated by Christians across all States in the country, ought to be permitted in the National Capital Territory, subject to compliance with COVID-19 protocol enumerated for restaurants, bars, auditoriums, theatres, etc.,” the plea said.
The plea emphasised that Christians across the city have been served with Christmas invites and arrangements from their respective churches after two years, and that curbing their right to attend the Christmas masses on the pretext of a Christmas gathering would be violative of Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution.
It said that the city churches for the last few months have been adopting various measures to contain COVID-19 spread. These include “no mask, no entry” policy for all the participants in church service; social distancing of seating and attendance; thermal scanning at the gate; sanitisation of persons and all the books and articles used; register of the names and addresses of all participants of the church services, and multiple church services to avoid overcrowding and enabling participation of the parishioners.
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