Kolitha Dharmawardana, D. S. G. for respondents.
FR Application dismissed.
S.C. Application No. 623/96
The Holidays Act, No. 19 of 1971 declared every full moon poya day and Sunday to be a public holiday. In addition, certain days specified in the 1st Schedule were also made public holidays. Section 4 gave the Minister the power to amend or vary the 1st Schedule. In view of the fact that an excessive number of public holidays affected the productivity of the country, the Government decided on the recommendation of a committee to eliminate holidays for Maha Sivarathri, Hadji, National Heroes Day and Bandaranaike Commemoration Day. However, in response to subsequent representations the Government declared Maha Sivarathri and Hadji as “Special Holidays for the followers of Hinduism and Islam respectively”. The petitioner contended that “his religious consciousness and belief is going to be imminently infringed/is infringed by the executive or administrative actions of the respondents since Maha Sivarathri is not going to be a public holiday so that the petitioner would not be able to observe these religious recitals [rituals ?]”.
He further claimed that “different religious groups normally get together to observe the manifestation of the religion or belief of the other since that day is a public holiday”, and that “this is essential in order to promote interreligious harmony for a country wounded by war”. He alleged the violation of Articles 10 and 14(1)(e). The petitioner’s next contention was that the sudden denial of the holiday was “against the legitimate expectations of the petitioner and is totally unilateral, unreasonable, arbitrary, unjustified, without proper procedure, ultra vires, capricious, wrong classification, not for any good reason but for some collateral purpose and thus denies the equal opportunity and violates the rights guaranteed under Article 12(1) of the Constitution”; and that the “Hindu religion is professed by [a] small minority compared to the total population and not declaring Maha Sivarathri as a holiday and reducing the holidays only from minority religions amounts to a violation of the rights guaranteed by Article 12(2) of the Constitution”.
FoRB violation – Conscience (i.e. having or adopting a religion of one’s choice); Discrimination
(1) The decision of the Government did not infringe the petitioners right to freedom of worship under Article 14(1)(e) of the Constitution. The essence of the freedom of worship is that the State (or even a private employer) must not prohibit or interfere with the citizen’s practice of his religion, but is not bound to extend patronage or provide facilities for such practice. The position is no different in regard to other freedoms; while the freedom of speech may entitle a citizen to publish a newspaper or to operate a radio station, it does not entitle him to a grant of State land or funds for his enterprise; and the freedom of associations may entitle citizens to establish a company, society or union, but not to demand from the State a building for its activities.
(2) There is also no infringement of the petitioner’s right to equality under Article 12(1) of the Constitution. Given its role and responsibilities in managing the national economy, the decision to reduce the number of holidays was legitimate. The Government is entitled to take into consideration a variety of matters in determining public holidays. The discretion is not fettered by some rigid principle.