The Constitution of Pakistan includes several provisions to protect the rights of minorities in the country. Key articles and principles relevant to the protection of minority rights are outlined below:

  1. Article 20 – Freedom to Profess Religion and to Manage Religious Institutions:
    • This article grants every citizen the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion. It also allows every religious denomination the right to establish, maintain, and manage its religious institutions.
  2. Article 21 – Safeguard Against Taxation for Purposes of Any Particular Religion:
    • No person shall be compelled to pay any special tax for the promotion or maintenance of any religion other than their own.
  3. Article 22 – Safeguards as to Educational Institutions in Respect of Religion, etc.:
    • It ensures that no person attending any educational institution is required to receive religious instruction or take part in any religious worship if it relates to a religion other than their own. It also states that no citizen can be denied admission to any educational institution receiving public funds on the basis of religion, race, caste, or place of birth.
  4. Article 25 – Equality of Citizens:
    • This article ensures that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantees the protection of women and children.
  5. Article 26 – Non-discrimination in Respect of Access to Public Places:
    • It ensures that there is no discrimination against any citizen in respect of access to public places on the grounds of race, religion, caste, sex, residence, or place of birth.
  6. Article 27 – Safeguard Against Discrimination in Services:
    • This article prohibits discrimination in service appointments based on race, religion, caste, sex, residence, or place of birth, except where these factors are a necessary condition for a specific service.
  7. Article 28 – Preservation of Language, Script, and Culture:
    • It allows any section of citizens with a distinct language, script, or culture to preserve and promote it and to establish institutions for that purpose.
  8. Article 36 – Protection of Minorities:
    • The state is responsible for safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including ensuring their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services .

These provisions collectively aim to ensure that minorities in Pakistan are protected and their rights are upheld, promoting equality and preventing discrimination based on religion, race, or other factors.

 The protection of minorities in Pakistan is a fundamental constitutional commitment, as illustrated by various constitutional provisions and significant case law. The Constitution of Pakistan enshrines the rights and protections of minorities, ensuring they are treated equitably within the framework of the law. 

Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees equality of all citizens and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, caste, or place of birth. This foundational provision ensures that all citizens, including minorities, are entitled to equal protection under the law. In Gul Sher v. Additional and Sessions Judge, Bhowana (2023 PLD 171 Lahore High Court Lahore), it was reaffirmed that the state must take measures to ensure the full participation of women and protect minorities, reinforcing the constitutional mandate of equality and non-discrimination.

Further protections are provided under Articles 20, 21, and 22, which safeguard religious freedom. Article 20 allows every citizen the right to profess, practise, and propagate their religion. Article 21 ensures that no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax for the propagation of any religion other than their own. Article 22 provides that no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction other than their own religion. These articles collectively create a robust framework for religious freedom and protection from coercion.

In Church Missionary Trust Association v. Federation of Pakistan (2022 PLD 36 Quetta High Court Balochistan), the court highlighted that respecting the basic rights of minorities fosters a harmonious society. The court emphasized that Islamic law historically granted non-Muslim communities the right to considerable autonomy in their internal affairs, underscoring that the Constitution obligates the state to safeguard these rights.

Article 36 specifically mandates the protection of the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their representation in federal and provincial services. The Sindh Public Service Commission case (2015 CLC 1605 Karachi High Court Sindh) reiterated that the state must ensure due representation of minorities in government services, highlighting systemic failures in implementing quotas reserved for minorities.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in Mubarik Ali Babar v. Punjab Public Service Commission (2023 SCMR 518), while dealing with various constitutional protections, reaffirmed the state’s duty to protect minorities and persons with disabilities, demonstrating the breadth of constitutional safeguards for vulnerable groups.

Additionally, the Constitution’s Preamble, alongside Articles 9, 14, 18, 26, and 27, outlines fundamental rights including the right to life and liberty, dignity, freedom of movement, and equality of employment opportunities. These rights are integral to the protection of minorities. In Workers’ Party Pakistan v. Federation of Pakistan (2012 PLD 681 Supreme Court), the Supreme Court stressed that the Constitution’s democratic framework mandates the protection and advancement of fundamental rights, including those of minorities.

Article 37, part of the Principles of Policy, obliges the state to promote social justice and eradicate social evils, ensuring that the conditions of employment are just and humane. This principle aligns with the broader constitutional commitment to social justice, as seen in Muhammad Ahmad Pansota v. Federation of Pakistan (2020 PLD 229 Lahore High Court Lahore), where the court interpreted international conventions addressing economic, social, and cultural rights as binding, reinforcing the state’s obligation to protect minority rights.

Lastly, Article 140-A of the Constitution mandates the devolution of political, administrative, and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of local governments, enhancing the participatory rights of minorities. The decision in Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) v. Province of Sindh (2017 PLD 169 Karachi High Court Sindh) underscored the importance of fair representation in local governments, essential for empowering minority communities.

 The judicial interpretation and enforcement of Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which ensures the freedom to profess religion and manage religious institutions, can be comprehensively understood through various judicial precedents. These cases reveal the courts’ attitude towards balancing individual religious freedoms with public order, morality, and the rights of others.

  1. Bismillah Din v. Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (2023 PLC(CS) 910): The Peshawar High Court affirmed that Article 20 grants every citizen the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion and allows religious denominations to establish, maintain, and manage their religious institutions. The judgment emphasized the scope of religious freedom protected under the Constitution.
  2. Mubarik Ali Babar v. Punjab Public Service Commission (2023 PLC(CS) 1049): The Supreme Court discussed the broader constitutional protections for minorities, including religious freedoms under Article 20. The judgment highlighted the interplay between various constitutional articles safeguarding the rights of minorities and persons with disabilities, underscoring the inclusive nature of fundamental rights.
  3. Church Missionary Trust Association v. Federation of Pakistan (2022 PLD 36): The Quetta High Court stressed the protection of religious minorities under Islamic law, advocating for a harmonious societal environment. The court referenced the historical treatment of non-Muslim communities and reinforced the state’s obligation to safeguard minority rights, including the management of their religious institutions.
  4. Azhar Abbas Haideri v. Government of the Punjab (2022 PLD 278): The Lahore High Court elucidated the scope of Article 20, noting that the right to profess, practice, and propagate religion is subject to law, public order, and morality. The court highlighted the importance of these qualifiers, indicating that religious freedoms are not absolute but balanced against the collective good.
  5. Tahir Naqash v. State (2022 PLD 385): The Supreme Court reaffirmed that while Ahmadis/Qadianis are declared non-Muslim under Article 260(3), they are not deprived of their constitutional rights. The court emphasized the equal protection of all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations, and underscored the fundamental rights available to minorities, including the freedom to profess and practice their religion.
  6. Inayat N. Din v. Salman Talibuddin (2021 PLD 539): The Karachi High Court dealt with issues surrounding the Church of Pakistan, highlighting the multifarious litigations involving the management of religious institutions. The court noted that mere assertions of constitutional violations without substantial evidence are insufficient to establish a case.
  7. Muhammad Tahir Jamal v. Government of the Punjab (2020 PLD 407): The Lahore High Court issued directives under the doctrine of continuing mandamus to address the lack of essential services on the motorway, including mosques. The judgment linked the provision of such facilities to the broader enforcement of constitutional rights, including those under Article 20.
  8. Khawaja Salman Rafique v. National Accountability Bureau (2020 PLD 456): The Supreme Court underscored the role of constitutional courts in reviewing executive actions to ensure compliance with constitutional mandates, particularly concerning fundamental rights. The judgment reiterated that judicial review extends to protecting religious freedoms and ensuring executive actions do not infringe upon these rights.
  9. Jurists Foundation v. Federal Government (2020 PLD 1): The Supreme Court stressed the liberal interpretation of fundamental rights in a living Constitution to promote freedom, equality, tolerance, and social justice. This case emphasized that constitutional rights, including those related to religious freedom, must be dynamically interpreted to uphold individual and collective liberties.

These cases collectively illustrate that while Article 20 guarantees significant religious freedoms, these rights are subject to reasonable restrictions based on law, public order, and morality. The judiciary has consistently sought to balance individual religious freedoms with societal harmony and constitutional mandates, ensuring that the exercise of religious rights does not undermine public order or infringe upon the rights of others

By The Josh and Mak Team

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