NECF Malaysia is gravely disappointed by and dissatisfied with the Federal Court’s dismissal of Lina Joy’s appeal.
First of all, the Federal Court’s decision does not uphold the constitutional safeguard of freedom of religion. It is a person’s fundamental right to profess a religion of her own choice free from compulsion or interference by the state or its institutions. Freedom of religion under the Federal Constitution can only be restrained where a person acts contrary to any general law affecting public order, public health or morality. Therefore, it defies all logic that Lina Joy’s freedom to profess and exercise a faith of her own choice can be subject to administrative barrier in the NRD refusing to effect a change to her religious status except upon the order of the Syariah Court. The foundational principle of supremacy of the Constitution over all other laws must be upheld.
NECF Malaysia is also deeply dismayed that the majority decision of the highest court has failed to bring about resolution to the present interfaith issues. By insisting that a person who no longer professes the religion of Islam but has embraced another religion to seek an order of the Syariah Court is equivalent to insisting that a muallaf who has attained the age of majority is obliged to seek the clearance of the religious leaders or authority of his former religion. Mutual respect and tolerance surely cannot be fostered without due regard to the principle of reciprocity.
In affirming the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Federal Court has perpetuated a most unfair and untenable position for Lina Joy and others in a similar dilemma. They now cannot enjoy the full rights as citizens as they are trapped in a religion which they no longer profess and are unable to lawfully marry, have children and live in accordance with the values, precepts and practices of the religion of their choice.
Finally, NECF Malaysia is extremely concerned that the Lina Joy case demonstrates the highest civil court retreating in the face of the relentless onslaught on their position as the third institution in a democratic system of government. In the hierarchy of the judiciary, the Federal Court is vested the judicial power of the Federation.
In this case, the judiciary has unfortunately failed to play its most important role of being both the guardians and interpreters of our Constitution. As an institution above the fray of politics, it is the only institution that can neutrally and without partisan considerations decide the serious issues raised in the Lina Joy case. It is constrained only by true and loyal allegiance to the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution, the twin pillars of our Rukunegara.
In the civil court’s abdicating its judicial power in religious matters on the basis of Article 121 (IA) of the Constitution, the Federal Court is placing undue stress and strain on the government to legislate or amend related laws when the due exercise of its judicial power as interpreter of the Constitution would have brought about a fair and just resolution to the issues.
While the country has undergone a significant shift towards “islamization” since the 1980s, the proclamation of Malaysia as an Islamic country in 2001, though a political expediency, has had considerable psychological impact and further polarized Malaysian citizens of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Religious vigilantism has been heightened among not only the religious ones, but also the bureaucrats. Administrative actions whether in policies or laws are being implemented without scrupulous regard to the requirements of the policies or laws but with the imposition of syariah rules and requirements. For example, non-Muslim police women are to wear Muslim headscarves for the annual parade. The happenings in recent years are indeed grave concerns. Among others, there are religious authorities breaking up families in the name of religion, the custody tussles between a non-Muslim parent and a Muslim parent, and public morality based on the principles of a particular religion.
The Christian community acknowledges the special position of Islam as the State religion for ceremonial purposes, and recognizes the application of Islamic family laws to those professing the religion of Islam in areas outlined in the Federal Constitution. We uphold the sanctity of the Malaysian Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and it is our hope that the Prime Minister, who has publicly declared to be the Prime Minister of all Malaysians, would fulfil his promises to establish a clean, just, harmonious and prosperous nation.
The decision of the Federal Court sets a landmark example of making legal judgement based on religious sentiment and thus inadvertently disregarding the fundamental right of an individual to profess and practice the religion of his or her choice. In the light of this, NECF Malaysia urges all Christian leaders to encourage their congregations to set aside time, both corporately and privately, to pray for our nation as a whole, in the next few weeks and months. Let us bring to God these matters of extreme gravity and urgency, and humbly ask Him to intervene so that truth, righteousness and godliness will prevail in our land.
The very basic structure of our nation, our institutions, our Constitution and the Rukunegara must remain the solid rock on which Malaysia will continue to prosper and stand tall among the community of nations, and on which all Malaysians strive and thrive together as a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society. Let us, the concerned citizens of Malaysia, exercise our rights to make a good decision at the right place and at the right platform.