PETALING JAYA: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has taken the stand that the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, a minority Christian denomination whose 2,500-strong membership includes Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, need not be registered with the Registrar of Societies (RoS), as is the usual requirement for religious groups in the country.
This was stated in a letter by a senior AGC officer in response to a query made by the church’s trustee, Thomas Matthews.
It is understood that Shamsul Bolhassan, who heads the AGC’s Constitutional and Administrative Law Unit, was delegated to respond to the query in view of the fact that AG Thomas is also a member of the church.
In his response, Shamsul said the Mar Thoma church could continue to operate under the Trustees (Incorporation) Act 1952.
He cited Article 11 of the Federal Constitution stating that every person has the right to profess and practise his religion subject to Clause 4, which allows state and federal laws to restrict the propagation of any non-Muslim religious doctrine among Muslims.
Shamsul said Article 11 (3)(a) also states that every religious group has the right to establish and maintain its institution for religious or charitable purposes.
“No conditions are found in Article 11 or indeed the rest of the constitution that require a religious group to form a legal association before they can be regarded as lawful.
“Your request on whether your church should be registered under the Societies Act 1966 must be considered against the background of the fundamental right to religion under Article 11,” he said in the letter.
Shamsul said since the church is governed by trustees, a simultaneous registration under two or more acts is not permitted.
But a prominent member of the church, former Court of Appeal judge Varghese George, disagreed with the decision.
Urging Shamsul to review his stand, George cited two letters, one from the AGC in 1970 and another from RoS in 2004, which he said were diametrically opposite to the latest stand.
In a letter to Shamsul last week sighted by FMT, George asked whether all other non-Muslim places of worship need not be registered as required by RoS and other government agencies.
The Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Malaysia was set up by immigrants from Kerala, India during the British colonial rule.
It consists of 16 parishes with 2,500 members nationwide. It is one of the few major denominations and churches not set up by missionaries or ordained priests.