Kerala Church welcomes state check on religious education

Muslim body petitioned court after one of its schools was closed for promoting exclusive religious instruction
Kerala Church welcomes state check on religious education

Indian schoolchildren cheer during a cricket game in Siliguri in July 2019. Kerala High Court on Jan. 25 ruled that schools should impart religious students to students only with government approval (Photo: Diptemdu Dutta/AFP)

A church official in the southern Indian state of Kerala has welcomed a direction from the state's High Court for privately run schools not to impart religious education without government permission.

The court ruled on whether schools unaided by the state can promote a particular religion to the exclusion of other religions in elementary schools.

“It is a welcome order and the government needs to know what kind of religious education is being imparted in a private school,” said Father Varghese Vallikkatt, deputy secretary-general of the regional body of Catholic bishops in Kerala.

The court had considered a petition from Hidaya Educational and Charitable Trust, a Muslim body that runs several schools in the state.

It challenged the state shutting down one of its schools on grounds that it promoted exclusive religious instruction and admitted only Muslim students, violating India's secular principles.

The court's Jan. 24 order said that “individual freedom available to a private body to promote its own beliefs or faith is not available to a private body when it discharges a public function. It is bound by public morality conceived in the constitution.”

The court, however, asked the state to give the school “an opportunity” to amend its ways to see if it can “desist from imparting religious instruction or religious studies without permission from the government.”

The court said it was “an issue of great significance” and asked the government to direct “all recognized private schools in the state to desist from imparting religious instruction or religious studies without permission from the government.”

The court made it amply clear that schools, even if they have state aid and recognition, can impart religious instruction only with government permission, Father Vallikkatt said.

The closed-down school allegedly functioned without recognition from any of the state educational boards and had admitted more than 200 students, all Muslims.

Christians, who form some 18 percent of Kerala’s 31 million people, run hundreds of schools. Catholic students in church-run schools attend catechism classes while non-Catholics attend moral studies.

Father Vallikkat said that with the latest judgment, “we may need to seek government permission to teach catechism. We can confirm it only after studying the judgment in detail.”

He said it was “good to have a government-mandated or approved religious curriculum in schools.”

The priest also agreed with the court saying that the “government should examine what kind of religious teachings are given to students.”

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