High Court to hear challenge against state religion on March 27
The High Court yesterday fixed March 27 for hearing a writ petition that had challenged 28 years ago the legality of the constitutional provision giving "Islam" the status of state religion.
A special bench of Justice Naima Haider, Justice Quazi Reza-Ul Hoque, and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal also withdrew an earlier order of the HC that had requested 12 senior lawyers as amici curiae (friends of court) to place their opinions on the issue before it.
Petitioners' lawyer Jaglul Haider Afric told The Daily Star that the HC passed the order saying it would hear opinions from fewer amici curiae on this matter.
Following the writ petition, the HC on June 11, 2011 issued a rule upon the government to explain why the part of the eighth amendment to the constitution that had made "Islam" state religion should not be declared illegal. It also invited 12 amici curiae to hear their opinions.
The amici curiae were Dr Kamal Hossain, TH Khan, Mahmudul Islam, M Amir-Ul Islam, Rafique-ul Huq, Dr M Zahir, Rokanunddin Mahmud, Ajmalul Hossain, Fida M Kamal, Yusuf Hossain Humayun, AFM Mejbahuddin and Abdul Matin Khasru. Later on, Dr M Zahir and Mahmudul Islam died.
The government did not respond to the June 11 rule.
On June 30, 2011, the parliament passed a bill on the constitution's 15th amendment retaining Islam's status as state religion. The amendment, however, restored "secularism" as one of the four fundamental principles of the state which had been omitted by a martial law regime after the 1975 bloody changeover.
Following an application filed by the writ petitioners, the HC in December 2011 issued a supplementary rule asking the government to explain why the part of the 15th amendment to the constitution that gave "Islam" the status of state religion should not be declared illegal, he said.
The counsel said there was no scope to keep "Islam" as state religion after the Supreme Court had declared illegal the fifth amendment to the constitution and restored "secularism" in the constitution.
The government led by military ruler HM Ershad had inserted a section in the eighth amendment to the constitution making "Islam" state religion on June 9, 1988.
Fifteen distinguished citizens had filed the writ petition with the HC in 1988 challenging the amendment that gave "Islam" the status of state religion.
The writ petitioners were Begum Sufia Kamal, former chief justice Kemal Uddin Hossain, Khan Sarwar Murshid, Prof Kabir Chowdhury, Prof Dr Mosharraf Hossain, Maj Gen (retd) Chitta Ranjan Datta (Bir Uttam), Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury, Badaruddin Umar, journalist Faiz Ahmed, Dr Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir, Prof Anisuzzaman, Justice Devesh Chandra Bhattacharjee, Justice KM Sobhan, Syed Istiaq Ahmed, and Kalim Sharafi.
Ten of them including Begum Sufia Kamal and Justice Kemal Uddin Hossain have already died, said the petitioner's lawyer Afric, adding that the petition was included in the hearing list of the three-member HC bench yesterday, as the chief justice recently assigned the bench for its hearing.
The lawyer, however, declined to say why the 1988 petition was heard for the first time in 2011 and why the petitioner's counsel applied to the chief justice last year so that the HC hears it now.