Islam retained the status of state religion as per the eighth amendment to the constitution with the High Court yesterday rejecting a writ petition challenging the legality of the constitutional provision of state religion.Fifteen distinguished citizens filed the writ petition with the HC in 1988 challenging the amendment that gave “Islam” the status of state religion.
A larger bench comprising Justice Naima Haider, Justice Quazi Reza-ul Haque and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal yesterday rejected the writ saying that the petitioners had filed the writ as an organisation not individually thus they have no jurisdiction to move such a petition.
The HC bench also observed that the platform Swairachar O Sampradaiyikata Pratirodh Committee had no legal basis, no registration.
After the HC order, additional attorney general Murad Reza told reporters that the High Court gave right decision as the Swairachar O Sampradaiyikata Pratirodh Committee has no legal rights to challenge state religion.
He said that the 15 eminent citizens did not file the writ petition as they have only represented the Swairachar O Sampradaiyikata Pratirodh Committee. Islam retained as state religion and the right of other religions were also upheld in accordance with the constitution following the HC order, Reza added.
On the other hand, Advocate Subrata Chowdhury, counsel for the petitioners, told reporters that they were very disappointed at the order.
“We are not given chance to explain the HC rule. We will file appeal against the HC verdict after getting the copy of the order,” he said.
The court earlier on March 1 had asked Swairachar O Sampradaiyikata Protirodh Committee to explain whether it had the right to challenge the legality of Article 2A of the Constitution that declares Islam as the state religion.
In 1988, the petition was jointly filed by former Chief Justice Kemal Uddin Hossain, academicians Khan Sarwar Murshid, Kabir Chowdhury, Mosharaf Hossain, Serajul Islam Chowdhury and Anisuzzaman, sector commander Chitta Ranjan Dutta, writer Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir and journalist Faiz Ahmed, as the leaders of the committee.
Only three of the petitioners Serajul Islam Chowdhury and Anisuzzaman, and Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir are now alive.
In response to a supplementary writ petition, the then HC bench comprising Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury and Justice Gobindra Chandra Tagore had on June 8 in 2011 issued a rule upon the government to explain as to why inclusion of the state religion ‘Islam’ in the Constitution by its Eighth Amendment should not be declared unconstitutional and ultra vires.
The HC asked the respondents to explain as to why insertion of the Article 2A in the Constitution, which included the state religion, by its Eighth Amendment passed in the Parliament on June 5, 1988 should not be declared unconstitutional and illegal.
The Article 2A states, “The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic”.
The court appointed 14 senior lawyers of the Supreme Court as amici curiae (friends of the court) to give their opinions on the matter. Among the 14 amicus curiae, two have died in the meantime.
The then President HM Ershad approved the Amendment on June 9, 1988. The long pending petition filed about 22 years ago was moved for hearing in the court by the petitioners’ lawyer Advocate Subrata Chowdhury under a changed circumstance, where the higher court declared the 5th, 7th, 8th and 13th Amendments to the Constitution illegal.
The Chief Justice had on February 29 this year form a larger bench to dispose of the petition. The larger bench on February 29 took up the writ petition for hearing and fixed March 27 for next hearing.
The bench also asked the petitioner’s lawyer Zagrul Haider to explain on March 27 whether it could hear the issue of state religion since the Appellate Division settled it a verdict on the 15th amendment.
The court also revoked an order given on December 1, 2011, appointing 14 senior lawyers as amicus curie to assist the court on the issue.
The court said it would take no legal opinion from the amicus curiae as it would delay the disposal.
Kamal Hossain and 11 other senior lawyers were present at the hearing.
While the matter came up at the yesterday cause list of the HC for hearing, additional attorney general Murad Reza told the court that they need time to take part in the rule hearing as it was very old case.
Later, the court wanted to know from petitioners lawyers whether they have right to file the petition or not.
After brief hearing from Advocate Subrata Chowdhury, the court rejected the petition saying that the petitioners have no rights to move such a petition.