Churches have right to display cross under Malaysia's Federal Constitution, say lawyers

Protesters outside the Taman Medan church before the cross was removed.

PETALING JAYA - Churches have a right to display the cross on their buildings under the Federal Constitution and should not be forced to take it down.

"Under Article 11, all Malaysians have a right to practise their own religion and the cross is an integral and indispensable part of the Christian faith - so it comes under the rights of Malaysians under Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution," said constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew.

He said that Article 11(1) reads that every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

Article 11(4) reads that state law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, Federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam, he added.

He further questioned the argument put forward by the demonstrators in Taman Medan on Sunday that the sight of the cross in a Muslim-majority area "challenged Islam" and could influence the young.

A group of 50 demonstrators had gathered outside a church in Taman Medan on Sunday to protest against a cross on the facade of the building.

They had demanded for the cross to be taken down, claiming that it challenged Islam.

It is understood that the cross was taken down by church authorities several hours later.

"You need strong and credible evidence to prove that hanging a cross outside a church would constitute propagation of the Christian faith to Muslims. It would be absurd to suggest that hanging a cross outside a building would amount to propagating Christianity to Muslims," said New.

He noted also that the group should not have taken matters into their own hands.

"Even if the church should not use a shophouse as a church, the mob should not take matters into their own hands and ignore the whole legal system. They should report the matter to the relevant local authorities or file a suit in court and let the relevant public bodies decide," he added.

Similar views were shared by Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen, who also said the church has a right to place the cross outside their building due to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

"The issue is much more one of local council, and if the church authorities have received the relevant approvals from the MBPJ, they have a legal right to put the cross on the building. It is quite misguided to say that because an area is majority-Malay Muslim, it is misguided to say that only their rights count," said Paulsen.

He said that in any society, the rights of minorities deserved as much protection as those of the majority in an area, and cited an international example.

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