[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N a significant judgment delivered on Friday, the Kerala High Court held that no school, which is required to have recognition under the Right to Education Act, is entitled to impart religious instruction or religious study of one religion exclusively in preference to other religion.
The High Court also held that the private school, which requires recognition, is entitled to impart religious instruction or study based on religious pluralism after obtaining permission from the State Government.
Justice A Muhamed Mustaque who signed off the judgment for the Court was considering a petition filed by a private unaided school, imparting elementary education, challenging the State’s action of closing down the school on the premise that it promoted exclusive religious instruction and admitted only students from one particular community thereby posing threat to the secular fabric of society.
Denying the relief to the school, the High Court noted there was a clear finding that the petitioner-school imparted religious instruction exclusively following Islamic religion. This, according to the High Court, could not be permitted.
“Since it offends the very fabric of the secular society, the Government is justified in ordering closure of the school”, said the High Court.
The High Court, however, taking note of the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, said that an opportunity should be given to the petitioner to desist from imparting religious instructions or study without permission from the Government.
Justice Mustaque in his judgment also lamented on the importance of education, secularism and private body that discharges public functions. He, thus, noted that:
“A private body that discharges public functions must adhere to constitutional values in regard to the discharge of pubic functions. It cannot adopt any character contrary or repugnant to constitutional morality or value. Individual freedom available to a private body to promote his own belief or faith is not available to a private body when it discharges public function. It is bound by public morality conceived in the Constitution. Public morality is the morality dictated by the Constitution. Public functionaries, therefore, cannot have their own morality independent of the one envisaged in Constitution. Every public functionary is, therefore, bound to sustain the shared morality of a multi cultural society”.
He added “a private institutions which impart elementary education discharge State function. The test of determination of State action of a private body is the nature of the authority related to the action. If the action emanates from the authority sanctioned by State, such action must satisfy all elements for validity based on constitutional norms”.
“Education plays an important role in transforming the character of civil society. In preambular justice, the Constitution lays importance to fraternity. Fraternity in diverse society can be achieved only by incorporating values in the education imparted. This must be attained through a multi-cultural pedagogy. There needs to be a value-based education to promote values of multi-cultural societies”, Justice Mustaque said.
The High Court also issued direction to the Secretary of General Education Department to issue a general government order directing all recognised private schools in the State to desist from imparting religious instruction or religious study without permission from the Government.
“If the Government finds that in spite of the direction, schools including that of the petitioner violates such order, the Government can initiate action for closure and derecognition of such schools”, said the High Court.
High Court also made it clear that it had not denounced value education moulded on the basis of religious instruction or study. It had only considered the point in relation to State function being discharged through elementary school.