Catholic Lawyers Meet With Minister To Discuss Harmony Bills

The Catholic Lawyers Society of Kuala Lumpur (CLS) met with the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Tan Sri Joseph Kurup today to discuss the National Harmony & Reconciliation Bill, National Harmony & Reconciliation Commission Bill, Preservation of Religious Practise Bill and the Racial & Religious Hate Crime Bill.

Led by CLS President, Viola De Cruz Silva, five members of the CLS met Tan Sri Joseph Kurup for about two hours to share their views of on the 4 Bills.

Kurup, who is the Minister in charge of interfaith matters, welcomed the views of the CLS saying that the Bills were important to ensure that peace and harmony is fostered in a meaningful way among the people of Malaysia who are of different races and profess different religions. This is especially important in view of the recent controversies in the country touching on race and religion.

Viola expressed CLS support for the Bills but communicated some of the concerns it had which included amongst others, the threshold requirement of ‘physical harm’ in the Racial & Religious Hate Crime Bill before a crime is committed under the Bill. This would effectively mean that many of the inflammatory statements that have been made in recent times by various extremist groups would go unpunished even though these statements were deeply hurting to certain religious or racial groups.

Viola added that while the CLS was all for upholding the freedom of speech, this did not mean that highly inflammatory statements could be made without considering the feelings of the various religious and racial groups in the country.

The draft version of the National Harmony & Reconciliation Bill, National Harmony & Reconciliation Commission Bill and the Racial & Religious Hate Crime Bill were released by the federal government through the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) on 9 June, 2014 for public feedback. Since then, the Bills have received mixed response from the public.

Other members of the CLS also inquired as whether the Bills would go towards resolving the “Allah” issue which has deeply troubled the Christian community in Malaysia. Kurup said the government is also looking into “long-term solutions” for the matter including the long-discussed National Harmony Bills.

On May, 2014, Kurup was reported to have said that he had met the Prime Minister and that the Prime Minister had assured him that the government will hold on to the 10-point solution and it will be used to settle the “Allah” controversy.

The “Allah” controversy boiled over in October, 2013 when the Court of Appeal ruled that the Herald Weekly, a news magazine owned by the Catholic Church in Malaysia was properly barred by the Home Minister from using the word “Allah” because the word was not integral to the practise and faith of Christianity. The ruling drew an immediate chorus of criticisms from Christians in the country who insist that the word “Allah” has been used by the Malay-speaking Christians since the 16th century.

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