‘All Conversions Can’t be Illegal’, SC Refuses Stay on MP HC Order Against Prior Sanction to Change Religion

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NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a notice on the Madhya Pradesh’s government plea against a high court order restraining it from prosecuting interfaith couples, who get married without informing the District Magistrate.

A bench comprising Justices M.R. Shah and C.T. Ravikumar, during the hearing, noted that all conversions cannot be said to be illegal.

The top court issued notice on the state government’s plea and scheduled the matter for hearing on February 7.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the state government, said it cannot turn a blind eye if marriage is used for illegal conversion and added that there was no prohibition for marriage or conversion, but it was only required to intimate the District Magistrate.

Mehta sought a stay on the high court order, however the apex court declined to pass any direction.

The state government, in its plea, contended that the high court order has mixed up Section 10(1) with Section 10(2) of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021.

It further added that the provision that applies to a citizen who is desirous of conversion is Section 10(1) and the violation of this provision has no penal consequences and there is no prosecution.

The state government said it is Section 10(2) which has penal consequences, which applies to a priest or person who is desirous to convert others by mass conversion.

It added the validity of Section 10(2) cannot be tested in violation of any fundamental right as there is no fundamental right to convert others.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court, in its decision in November 2022, had restrained the state government from prosecuting “adult citizens if they solemnise marriage on their own volition” and violate Section 10 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (MPFRA), 2021.

The provision required individuals, who intend to convert, and the priest, who would carry out the conversion, to notify the District Magistrate of their intention 60 days in advance.

The high court had found Section 10 of the Act prima facie unconstitutional.

“Till further orders, respondent shall not prosecute the adult citizens if they solemnize marriage on their own volition and shall not take coercive action for violation of Section 10 of Act of 21,” the high court had said. — IANS

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