The fact that three out of a seven-man Federal Court bench gave dissenting judgments on the recent “Allah” case is an indication there are cogent grounds for the decision to be reviewed by another panel of the apex court, said a Christian leader from Sarawak.
Archbishop John Ha of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuching also said given Putrajaya’s immediate statement to assure Christians that the ban was limited to the Catholic weekly, Herald, and that the 10-point solution still stood, shows that the Federal government had the power to lift the ban on the use of the word Allah in the Bahasa Malaysia section of Herald.
Expressing his disappointment and concern over the Federal Court’s decision not to grant leave to the Catholic church in the Herald case, Ha said he took consolation that the decision was not unanimous.
He pointed out that there was also a lot of dissatisfaction over the Court of Appeal judgment that overturned the earlier High Court judgment which effectively lifted the ban by the Home Minister on Herald from using the word Allah.
Ha added that the dissatisfaction arose from what was perceived as “flaws” in the reasons given by the Court of Appeal.
Ha said, granting leave for the case to be heard by the Federal Court would have provided a golden opportunity for issues of constitutional rights and protection for freedom of religion to be articulated by the highest court in the country.
He said that Catholic lawyers had pointed out that the leave would have provided the opportunity to interpret Article 11 (1) and (3) of the Federal Constitution with respect to the rights of non-Muslim communities in Malaysia to practise their religion.
“In my personal view, bearing in mind the degree of public importance of legal issues raised, granting leave to enable such critical issues to be expounded fully would have been an opportune occasion to contribute to a greater public confidence, or if not, at least to reduce the loss of it, in our judicial system.
“It is lamentable that the opportunity has been lost,” the Archbishop wrote on the archdiocese website.
He said the 10-point solution is the way forward for the country and for it to work, the ban on the use of the word Allah in Herald, must be lifted.
Ha added that the legal implication of the Court of Appeal decision was that the ban on the use of Allah was nationwide, adding that the Federal Court, in denying the leave application, meant that the Court of Appeal judgment was intact.
Ha said that this created a confusing situation – on one hand the nationwide ban was still effective – on the other, the assurance by Putrajaya that it was only confined to Herald.
“The ban is a ministerial order or executive decision and the Federal government has the competence to rescind it.
“I pray and appeal to the Federal government to do that so that the 10-point solution can be implemented without hindrance and our nation can move on,” he wrote.
Ha also commented on the “bold seizure” of 321 Bahasa Malaysia and Iban-language Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) and the refusal by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) to return them.
He said that the Federal Court decision may encourage and embolden “high-handed” and “disrespectful” actions by a Muslim body on a non-Muslim organisation.
“My fear is that the refusal of leave may spiral into a wider sphere than just the Herald and may spill over to the ban of the use of the term ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims at large, despite the government’s assurance.
“Would the government and its machinery be able, or daring enough to contain this likely spiral, should it happen?” he questioned.
Ha also wrote that Malaysia was intended to be a democratic nation and a secular state but over time, there has been a deviation from the original intention of the founding fathers.
He added that while Islam was given special position, other Malaysians could practise their faith in peace and harmony as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.
Ha, however, said this constitutional safeguard is being politicised and the courts appeared to be reluctant to enforce them, especially in situations where public pressure is exerted by certain groups that do not respect the safeguards for minorities.
“Any ban on the use of the word Allah by Christians in any manner is an infringement on the practice of Christianity.
“I cannot help wonder whether eventually the Constitution will be broken to give way to some fundamentalist quarters who seek to enforce an Islamic way of life for the whole nation,” Ha wrote.
The Archbishop urged Christians not to “panic” in the current situation, adding that for God, there is “never a cul-de-sac”.
“He will open a path for us and for the whole nation to move on. For sure, we need to continue to do our part to get the issue resolved and pray for God to open a path for us,” he said.