In response to a recent tragedy in which 20 followers were mercilessly murdered by a so-called faith healer, a lawyer filed in the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday, a petition seeking legislation for regulating spiritual treatment in the country. While the notion of regulating fake spiritual healers and their like is a worthy one, the method chosen is at odds with the objective.

It must be noted that the SC cannot create legislation itself, nor direct the government to draft and pass a specific one – this is one of the central tenants of the separation of powers. The apex court can only adjudicate on cases that fall foul of legislation already passed by the government or review government actions in light of the constitution.

The lawyer who has moved this petition must surely know this, he needs to petition the Parliament not the SC. However, that method does not provide the opportunity for self-aggrandisement and publicity the same way a SC petition does. The petitioner listed the Chief Ministers of all provinces and the heads of both Pakistan Press Council (PPC) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) have been named as respondents. This was surely not their fault that 20 people lost their lives, nor is it within their power to pass the legislation sought, yet listing several major government officials does draw attention. Petitions like this are clearly frivolous and never intended to actually do what they aim to do – their purpose is to create publicity for the petition and the petitioner. However, as in the recent case of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) taking seriously a petition that sought to ban social media, sometimes the judge is caught up in lure of publicity.

Regardless of the motivations of the petitioner in this case the subject matter does require attention. It is clear that the present case in Sargoda was a product of a mentally unstable warden rather than faith healing itself, but the government can start a debate on regulating and registering faith healers as it does other doctors and medical providers. While this proposal seems to make sense at first it raises questions about constitutional protections towards freedom of belief. The government can warn the public about the dangers of seeking scientifically unsound medicine and try individuals who willfully harm their clients, but seeking a ban on ‘pirs’ and faith healers, or the state deciding what sort of religious treatment is legitimate and which is useless is wading into murky waters.

As unadvised it might be, people are free to choose their religious practices, even if it impacts their health.