Terror against religious freedom

THE attacks against churches and other places of worship that ushered in 2010 have brought into sharp focus the intolerance of an unruly minority in Malaysia. This minority is determined to destroy the delicate balance reached through compromise and consensus in a plural society by our founding leaders, which forms a critical component of the social contract under the Federal Constitution.

By Tommy Thomas (The Nut Graph)

Rage and emotional reactions must not take centre stage in national life. Instead, a calm and reasoned analysis of the constitutional position of religious freedom, which has served the nation well for half a century, must be undertaken.

I suggest the following propositions:

1 Islam is the religion of Malaysia, but other religions can be freely practised.

2 All citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression.

3 Everyone has the right to profess and practise a religion of their choice.

4 Every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs and activities, free from state interference, and the right to acquire and own property.

5 Every religious group has the right to establish schools and other educational institutions for the education of children in its own religion.

6 As religion is a state matter, there is no national head of Islam for the whole of Malaysia. Instead, the nine Malay rulers are the heads of Islam in their respective states; and the Yang DiPertuan Agong is the head of Islam in the federal territories.

7 As part of the religion of the nation, federal and state laws have been passed regulating the worship of Islam. No similar laws have been enacted for religions other than Islam. Thus, insofar as religions other than Islam are concerned, there is a wall of separation between the state and those religions. 

It follows that state action cannot regulate or govern the practice of religions other than Islam.

(Pic by F Lorences / sxc.hu)

8 It is therefore not the state’s business how religions other than Islam conduct their worship in churches, temples or gurdwaras, how priests are trained or appointed, what religious books are read in places of worships, what songs are sung, what sermons are delivered and in what language and by whom, and the like. All these are matters solely and exclusively for the religious group to determine.

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