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HC rejects petition on state religion

The High Court yesterday rejected summarily a writ petition that challenged the constitutional provision giving Islam the status of state religion of Bangladesh.

The bench of Justice Md Emdadul Huq and Justice Muhammad Khurshid Alam Sarkar passed the order after hearing arguments from Additional Attorney General Murad Reza and the petitioner, Supreme Court lawyer SM Goswami.

Goswami argued that article 2A violated the constitution's basic structure regarding the principles of secularism and equality.

He referred to article 12 of the constitution that says the principle of secularism shall be realised by the elimination of communalism in all its forms; the granting by the State of political status in favour of any religion; the abuse of religion for political purposes; any discrimination against, or persecution of, persons practising a particular religion.

The additional attorney general opposed the petition saying that the constitutional provision that states that “the state religion of the Republic is Islam” is not contrary to any other provisions, since article 2A of the constitution also ensures equal rights and dignity of people of other religions.

He maintained that the same article of the charter says that “the state religion of the Republic is Islam, but the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions”.

Islam had been given the status of state religion through the constitution's 8th amendment in 1988 during the regime of military ruler HM Ershad.

The 15th amendment in 2011, however, expanded the article by including the phrases “the State shall ensure equal status and equal right in the practice of the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and other religions.”

Additional attorney general Reza said article 2A is not a law, but a statement; so it can't be contrary to the other articles of the constitution. 

The petitioner said a referendum has to be held for bringing any amendment to the constitution to change any of its basic structures.

Reza told the court that there is no constitutional provision for organising a referendum following the passage of the 15th amendment to the charter.

Article 12 didn't exist in 1988 when Islam was given the status of state religion. The martial law regime after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975, dropped article 12 as a whole.

This article was restored in the constitution in 2011 through the 15th amendment. 

The petitioner also referred to article 27 in defence of his petition. According to the article, all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to have equal protection of law, said Goswami.

In the petition filed on August 1, the lawyer prayed to the HC to issue a rule upon the law secretary to explain as to why the provision that recognised Islam as state religion should not be declared unconstitutional.


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