Not compulsory for non-Muslim houses of worship to register with RoS, says interfaith council

The St Thomas Church in Klang, which is under the Mar Thoma Christian denomination. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: An interfaith council says the Registrar of Societies (RoS) declared in 2015 that non-Muslim religious denominations and houses of worship do not need to be registered with it.

Jagir Singh, the legal bureau chief of the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, said an RoS representative met with council members on Sept 4, 2015 and informed them that non-Muslim places of worship that were already registered with RoS could “migrate” to a non-Muslim body should the government establish one.

“It is like all mosques that come under the purview of the state Islamic religious departments,” he said in a statement.

Jagir, who was council vice-president in 2015, said representatives of the federal territories (FT) ministry, the FT Land and Mines Department and Selangor RoS also attended that meeting.

He was responding to the stand taken by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) that the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, a minority Christian denomination of 2,500 members, need not be registered with the RoS.

Shamsul Bolhassan, who heads the AGC’s Constitutional and Administrative Law Unit, had responded to a query by the church’s trustee Thomas Matthews as to whether it was required to register with the RoS.

Shamsul said the Mar Thoma church could continue to operate under the Trustees (Incorporation) Act 1952.

He cited Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which states 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.”

But a prominent member of the church, former Court of Appeal judge Varghese George, disagreed with the AGC’s decision.

Jagir said the council supported the view of the AGC and opposed the stand taken by George as it was not legally supported.

“George’s reference to some RoS letters in 2004, on which he relies, is not law,” he said, adding that there was indeed an effort by the RoS in 2014 to require non-Muslim places of worship in the FT to register.

“The council opposed this as unconstitutional. It resulted in the meeting on Sept 4, 2015 where RoS officers conceded that legally there is no requirement for non-Muslim places of worship to be registered,” he added.

Moreover, Jagir said non-Muslim places of worship could register with the Registrar of Companies, under a trust or the Inland Revenue Board, which was what some had done. Others had also registered with the RoS.

“Many are not registered anywhere but can function legally under Article 11 of the constitution,” he added.

“Here, a letter of confirmation from their national body suffices.”