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Can a state popularise atheism? Supreme Court’s notice to Ta ..


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In a Constitution-mandated secular governance structure, can a government promote atheism?

In a Constitution-mandated secular governance structure, can a government promote atheism? The Supreme Court on Monday sought responses from the Tamil Nadu government on a petition alleging the installation of a number of statues of Periyar, an atheist, in the state with anti-God inscriptions. Appearing for appellant M Deivanayagam who challenged a Madras HC decision to dismiss his plea, senior advocate Gopal Shanakaranarayanan told a bench of Justices Sanjay K Kaul and A S Oka that it was unfortunate that the statues of Periyar have been installed across the state at public places by Dravidar Kazhagam party with an accompanying inscription that militates against faith and belief of believers. The petitioner translated the inscription from Tamil and stated in his petition that it amounted to saying — “There is no God, no God, God doesn’t exist, one who created God is a fool, one who has propagated God is a scoundrel and one who prays to God are barbarians”.

Shankaranarayanan said that though Periyar is entitled to his views and free to practice atheism, it would be quite a different legal situation when these inscriptions are displayed in public and could encourage the general public to display in public competitive messages of religious nature reposing faith in God. The bench issued notices to TN government and the political party and sought their responses to the appeal.

The Madras HC had dismissed Deivanayagam’s writ petition seeking removal of the inscriptions saying the petitioner’s right to expression under Article 19 of the Constitution, is on par with the rights of Dravidar Kazhagam to disagree with such views. HC had also said that, ‘Periyar’ had in fact advocated both atheism and self-respect, and therefore, the inscriptions attributed to his statues need not be removed.

The petitioner said, “One such statue was unveiled at the Trichy Bus Stand in 1967 by the then CM. These statues are maintained/governed by a government order. Thus, the statues being sanctioned by the State, the inscriptions on such statues. cannot be deemed as an expression of the political party’s right to free speech. Rather it is an intrusion into the personal liberty of the believers that is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.


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