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How did ‘withdrawn’ religious bill get to Parliament?

July 1, 2013

Upko president Bernard Dompok said the present Bill "contravenes the Federal Constitution and runs counter to the Government’s transformation plans".

PENAMPANG: The Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 which was tabled in Parliament last Wednesday has shocked former Upko lawmaker, Bernard Dompok.

“I am surprised and disappointed that this Bill has been approved by Cabinet for tabling at Parliament.

“A few months ago I asked for its withdrawal as I felt that an earlier cabinet decision on the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 should instead be implemented.

“The cabinet paper was withdrawn, and I am therefore surprised that it is now in Parliament,” he said in a statement to Borneoinsider.

Dompok said the present Bill “contravene the Federal Constitution and runs counter to the Government’s transformation plans” especially the 1Malaysia concept of acceptance, inclusiveness and moderation.”

He said Upko lawmakers will insist that the Bill be withdrawn from Parliament and a full discussion by the Barisan National on this and related religious issues be initiated before any Bill is presented to Parliament.

The Bill has drawn all-round criticism.

Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing also described the proposed amendments to the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) on the conversion of minors as a “flagrant violation of the equality of persons’ provisions of the federal constitution”.

Diabolic move

The amendments, hinging on the use of the word ‘parent’ instead of ‘parents’, makes it legal for a father or a mother, or guardian, to convert children below the age of 18 to a religion of proprietary choice.

Tan wondered if there was not an element of diabolism in the intent of the framers of the amendment who he said knew that the word ‘parent’ can also be construed as a collective noun like ‘crowd’, and hence, when push comes to shove, they could limit its meaning to one of the two progenitors – father or mother – or a guardian.

“This shows the mala fide of the framers of the amendments.

“I understand this amendment contravenes a decision by the cabinet announced on April 23, 2009 that a single parent cannot convert a minor,” said the head of the Catholic Church in the Melaka-Johor diocese.

“If so, this would not be the first time that the cabinet is overridden by civil service functionaries – the main drivers of creeping Islamisation in this country,” charged the Jesuit-trained prelate.

He also said the proposed amendment volated the commitment to gender equality.

Tan warned that the vote on the bill will be a litmus test of the fidelity to the Federal Constitution of legislators elected to Malaysia’s 13th Parliament.

The MCA has meanwhile slammed the “stealthy” tabling of the amendment in the Federal Territories Islamic law.

“I am shocked to learn that the government is tabling the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill as it contains controversial provisions that affects the constitutional and religious rights of the non-Muslim,” said MCA vice president Gan Ping Sieu.

“This will seriously and irredeemably affect the religious harmony and national unity of our country,” he said.


Malaysian Bar Council president Christopher Leong also argued that the amendment was “unconstitutional” as the federal constitution provides that such words in contention refer to the plural.

Leong cited Article 160 and the eleventh schedule of the federal constitution that expressly provides that all words appearing in the federal constitution which are stated in one gender also include the other gender, and all words in the singular also include the plural.

MIC has echoed its BN partner MCA in expressing “shock” over the bill related to child conversion laws, saying it is “unacceptable” and that they had not been consulted on the matter.

MIC national treasurer Jaspal Singh had this to say: “Clearly there was not a process of consultation with all relevant parties; otherwise we would have pointed out the unfairness of this particular clause,” he said in a statement yesterday.

Jaspal said the law could be abused by angry spouses to convert a child as a form of revenge.

“Conversion could also be done to unfairly gain custody of the children, because surely the Syariah Court will grant custody to the Muslim parent,” he added.



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