PETALING JAYA: A coalition of civil society groups has gone on the attack against what it calls the Atheist Republic movement, over efforts to “malign and dishonour religions in the name of freedom of expression”.
The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Process (Macsa) said the promotion of atheism goes against the Constitution.
“Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the Federation, and other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.
“Therefore, active promotion of atheism is essentially an anti-constitutional endeavour that disrupts the peace and harmony within the religious communities in Malaysia, which should not qualify as protected speech,” Macsa chairman Azril Amin said in a strongly-worded statement.
“Any form of evangelical atheism in a multi-faith society like Malaysia should be categorised as hate speech.”
The comments are believed to be a response to the backlash that followed recent comments on atheism by Deputy Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.
On Nov 23, Asyraf told the Dewan Rakyat that atheism has no place in Malaysia as it contravenes the Federal Constitution.
“We must understand that in the Malaysian context, freedom of religion does not mean freedom from any religion,” the senator said in response to a question on the government’s efforts to curb atheism among Malaysians.
Politicians, lawyers, civil society groups and other prominent personalities criticised the deputy minister for his misguided view on the constitutional right to “freedom of religion”.
Though Macsa did not explicitly support the minister’s views, it suggested the criticism of his comments were misplaced or came with an agenda.
“In a country like Malaysia, where all religious faiths coexist and are respected, the Atheist Republic movement has decided that it should be free to malign and dishonour these faiths in the name of freedom of expression.
“However, the right to freedom of expression is accompanied by both the implicit and legal responsibility to exercise that right responsibly and in ways that do not disrupt the peace and harmony of our Malaysian society,” Macsa said.
The group added that not being a religion – with no rituals, no obligations, no places of worship and no practices – atheism therefore, does not qualify for the protections afforded to religious communities.
“An atheist can be an atheist privately, and there is nothing in atheism that requires him or her to be otherwise.
“However, the Atheist Republic movement seems to demand the right to preach against the theistic belief that runs through every religious community in Malaysia.
“They are rejecting their responsibility to respect what their fellow Malaysians hold sacred,” Azril said, adding that it thus was no longer a matter of being anti-religious but a matter of being anti-social.
Azril also alleged the Atheist Republic movement were creating an issue over Asyraf’s statement with a “subversive agenda” in mind.
“The Atheist Republic movement would very much like to be suppressed by the state so they can claim that their rights are being denied and so they can rally the support of liberals around the world to demonise the government.”
He added that though a minority group should be given accommodations to ensure they are protected from prejudice, they should not be accommodated to such an extent that their own prejudice against the majority should be protected
“Evangelical Atheism should be exposed for what it is: as an assault on the culture, traditions, and cohesion of Malaysian society, and worse off, an affront to the Constitution of the country.”