The Selangor state government has advised the church in Taman Medan to return the cross to its original location to avoid setting a precedent of mob rule, writes Elizabeth Wong.
Following the unwarranted and disturbing incident outside a church at Taman Medan, a meeting was convened this morning (21 April) with representatives of the Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church, advisors to the State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (HESI), councillors of Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) Mr F K Tang and Mr Peter Chong, Petaling Jaya Selatan Member of Parliament YB Hee Loy Sian, and state representatives YB Hannah Yeoh and YB R Rajiv.
In the meeting, several matters were clarified. They include:
- That the church has been meeting since August 2014, serving Christians from the community;
- That the cross was put up on 17 April 2015 outside the premises;
- That the violent protest held by Umno branch on 19 April 2015 had intimidated the Christians who were there at their regular Sunday service and had forced the pastor to bring down the cross out of fear for the safety of the congregation.
In addition, MBPJ Councillors also clarified that since 2008, the previous State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (then known as State Committee on Non-Islam Places of Worship or RIBI) has allowed churches to operate in commercial premises or offices without the need for application of permits, only by way of notification to the committee. This is based on the principle that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution embodies freedom of worship.
Therefore, today’s (21 April) statement by the Public Relations Officer of MBPJ as reported in The Star newspaper – that churches in office blocks need to apply for permits – is not accurate. There is no such policy put forward by the state committee, HESI. A notification to the HESI committee suffices. And if any local councils have any issues or questions, they are to refer to the HESI committee.
There are however existing guidelines on stand-alone non-Islamic buildings of worship which cover land applications, land conversions, buildings, demolitions and applications for funds.
As firmly expressed by the Menteri Besar YAB Azmin Ali yesterday, the state government finds the forcible removal of the cross to be abhorrent to Christians and to the fundamentals of freedom of worship enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In the meeting, we have advised the church to return the cross to its original site to stop this precedent of mob rule by politically aligned extremists.
At the same time, we call upon the Royal Malaysian Police to take this matter very seriously in order to ensure that the safety of worshippers is protected at all times and that there will be no repeats of such cases in Selangor.
Elizabeth Wong, a Selangor State Executive Councillor, is co-chair of the Selangor State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs.