Author:- Isiri Rajaneesh


Religion, a term which has associated with it, an array of beliefs, practices and systems, all of which are linked to divine, occult beings like gods, goddesses and spirits as well as to spirituality and even moral values. Religion can also be described as a way of life and as the very basis of humanity. Religious laws are customary principles, rules and traditions followed by people of different religions and also encompass ethical and moral codes which are taught and practiced by disparate religions.

Religion is delineated as a universal institution which instills ethical and moral values in people, creates a sense of camaraderie among people, acts as a tool of social control and is, overall, considered as a dynamite, sublime facet of humanity. However, religion is a double-edged sword, with religious crimes being committed in every country, be it a developed nation or a developing one, though the rate of religious crimes varies from country to country. This article is going to peruse different religious laws and religious crimes across the world.

An abridgement of religious laws around the world:

There are multifarious religious laws in the world, some of which are explicated below-

  1. Christianity: It is safe to say that Christianity is the largest religion in the world, being practised by nearly all of the developed as well as developing countries, save for a few. There are a plethora of laws that come under the purview of Christianity, the most prominent being the mosaic law and the canon law, with the latter encompassing a slew of other religious laws in Christianity. The mosaic law, popularly known as the biblical law, with the ten commandments being a well-known example, is considered to be the Old Testament by Christians as it pertains to religious principles and ethics codified in Pentateuch’s first five books, which, to put it succinctly, are about God telling about himself as well as his people. The canon law is a body of laws made within certain Christian churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, etc., by the lawful, ecclesiastical authority of the government both of the church and parts thereof and of the behaviour and actions of individuals, i.e., it includes precepts of divine law, be it natural or positive, incorporated in the canonical collections and codes. [1] Canon law, which incorporates various other religious laws like canons of the apostles, the canon law of the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, etc., deals with issues that any legal system does, such as various rights, property issues, laws pertaining to sacraments, sacred places and magisterial teachings, etc.[2]
  • Hinduism: Believed to be the oldest religion, Hinduism, also referred to as ‘Santana Dharma’, is dominant in developing countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc. and is also notably found in populations of many developed countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, etc. Pertaining to Hinduism, law and religion are facets of a single, paramount concept known as dharma. Dharma is a system of natural laws and specific rules are derived from an ideal, moral, and eternal order of the universe and this concept of dharma influences all aspects of a Hindu’s life.[3]
    Some of the key principles of Hinduism are –
    • The principle of righteousness, which touches on virtues like forbearance, honesty, purity, forgiveness, etc.
    • Artha, which encompasses objective and virtuous pursuit of wealth for livelihood, obligations and economic prosperity.[4] This principle also calls for wealth to be used for serving society.
    • Another integral principle is the Kama, which is about desires, love and the enjoyment of material things.
    • The principle of Nirvana emphasizes the purification of the inner self by pursuing spiritualism, meditation, etc.
    • Hinduism also incorporates the principles of equality, tolerance, compassion and disapproves detrimental sentiments like ego, pride, hatred, anger, etc.
  • Islam: The Islamic law, also known as Sharia, incorporates the moral, legal and religious laws of Islam and is primarily followed and practised in developing countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, India, etc. Derived from four main sources, namely the Quran, the Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas, Sharia law covers all facets of life, from business and dietary rules to marriage and inheritance.
    The four central laws covered by the Sharia are penal laws, laws pertaining to marriage and divorce, laws on commercial dealings and laws concerning personal acts of worship. The Sharia governs and categorizes all human actions into five segments, namely- Wajib [ acts which are mandatory to be performed], Mustahab [ acts which are recommended], Jaiz [ acts which are lawful and permitted], Makruh [ acts which are discouraged] and Haram [ acts which are forbidden]
  • Other religious laws followed across the world include Jainism – an ancient Indian religion which enlightens many about the path to spirality and purity through disciplined ahimsa [ non-violence]; Judaism – developed by ancient Hebrews [ members of ancient Semitic people, who were the ancestors of Jews] and practiced in Israel, Russia, North America, etc., Judaism is the complex phenomena of a total way of life for Jewish people[5] , comprising of various cultural traditions; and folk religions like Chinese folk religion, Philippine folk religion, etc.

An audit of religious crimes:

A global problem, the matter of religious crimes is a debatable one. The magnitude of religious crimes in both, developed and developing countries, is examined through two paradigms, USA and India.

From the past few years, USA has seen an upsurge in cases of religious crimes, and is one of the highest in the world regarding the same, with the Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus being commonly targeted. Bullying, physical and verbal abuse, damage to property, vehicular attacks, stabbings, bomb blasts are a few forms of religious hate incidents in the US. Below are a few representative federal case studies regarding religious crimes.

  • Case study 1: In the Louisiana Church case, the accused, Holden Matthews, set three Baptist churches on fire in the span of 10 days because of their religious character. 6 charges were filed against him, including arson on a religious property, and he was sentenced to minimum 10 years in prison.
  • Case study 2: In State v Rice, a civil rights attorney, Charles Goldmark, his wife Annie and their two sons were assassinated by David Rice who, posing as a taxi driver delivering a package, stabbed them. Rice, who was a member of an extremist group called Duck Club was convinced that Charles Goldmark and his family were Jews and stabbed them for the same reason. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Case study 3: In State of Arizona v Frank Silva Roque, a turbaned Sikh named Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot 5 times by a gunman four days after the 9/11 attacks. The offender, Frank Silva Roque, declared he shot Sodhi because his turban and beard caused him to assume Sodhi was a Muslim. Found guilty of first-degree murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The above exemplars show that in a religious crime, the presence of different religions and faiths in their state or country is considered intolerable by perpetrators and the need to blame someone, be it non-Christians or Christians who don’t follow the conventional Christian law, is felt by the offenders for all problems in the US and in the world. With the increasing number of religious hate crimes in US, many organized groups were formed to curb the same, such as the Center for Democratic renewal, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, etc. The government has also enacted several laws, like the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, etc., to fight religious and other hate crimes.

In India, the minorities are the ones on the receiving end, with the past few years seeing a spike in instances of murders, assaults, communal violence and lynchings. In its annual report, the United States Commission on International religious freedom has identified several limitations regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief and the challenges faced by religious minorities in India. .[6]  Following are a few paragons of the same.

  • In the case, Rabindra Kr. Pal @ Dara Singh v Republic of India, Graham Stuart Staines was burnt to death along with his two sons by a Hindu fundamentalist gang in Odisha in 1999. In 2003, Dara Singh was convicted of leading the gang and was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.
  • In Mohd. Haroon & Ors. v Union of India & Anr, riots, due to clashes between Hindus and Muslins, erupted in the Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, which resulted in at least 62 deaths and many injuries of both Hindus and Muslims.
  • In 2008, a priest and his four disciples were assassinated in Odisha with seven tribal Christians and a Maoist leader being arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The 1984 anti- Sikh riots, the 2010 canning riots, the 2006 Varanasi bombings, the Alwar mob lynching in 2017 are also a few of the many paradigms of religious violence in India. The reason for the same can be attributed to a culmination of factors like conflicting ideologies, animosity between different communities, lack of education, exploitation of people who belong to minor religious groups, etc. In India, the protection of religious rights is arranged in chapter XV of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, containing 5 sections – Sections 295-298, dealing with offences and sanctions pertaining to religion.

  • Section 295 states that if an individual damages, destroys or defiles any place of worship or any object disseminated as sacred by a particular religion with the intention of besmirching that religion, that individual will be held liable under the said section and penalized with either imprisonment or fine or both.
  • Section 296 chronicles that if an individual voluntarily disturbs a lawful religious assembly or religious rituals, he or she will be punished with either imprisonment for upto an year or fine or both.
  • According to section 297, a person is liable for imprisonment for a year or fine or both if he or she trespasses into a place of worship or a place of sepulture with the complete intention of insulting the religion of another or wounding religious sentiments of any person
  • Section 298 states that if an individual, with the deliberate intention of insulting religious sentiments of another, utters words or makes any sound for the same purpose, within the hearing of another or makes insulting gestures, that individual will be penalized with either imprisonment or fine or both.

Laws like The Places of Worship (Special Provisions Act), 1991; The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988, etc. have also been enacted to fight religious violence.

With religious crimes proliferating, the offences not only affect the victims but also the thoughts and behaviours of others in a society. The level of anger and hatred in societies is fuelling such acrimonious divisiveness that it not only affects a nation, but also humanity. When a person is a victim of hate or violence hinged on religion, the whole community feels angry on the victim’s behalf which can lead to people brazenly seeking vengeance, which turns into a vicious cycle of hatred with no room for constructive change, leaving only radical options to act upon hatred in different societies or communities.


Religion is an integral part of human life, a way of living for many, and there are numerous religious laws in the world, each with its own disparate history, principles and traditions. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights rightly articulated, every person born in this world has a right to preach, practice and follow their religion, but unfortunately, many people are harassed, discriminated against, assaulted, abused and killed for doing so. Religious crimes are on the rise in many nations and there is a dire need for extensive action. Instances of religious brutality should be completely and immediately examined and the perpetrators should be furnished with help. The youth should be taught to respect every religious community, specific actions to prevent incitement to violence, religious extremism should be taken by the government of every country and peaceful, inclusive societies and institutions should be built to enhance education and promote human rights.

Isiri Rajaneesh is a second-year law student, pursuing a BA.LLB [Hons]. at PES University, Outer Ring Road Campus in Bengaluru 

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