Church protest a sign of extremism setting in: Malaysian lawyers

City council declares church 'illegal', says it did not have license or permit to display cross
A protest this week in which demonstrators in a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Malaysia demanded that a cross be removed from a building is a sign of growing extremism, according to the country’s regulatory body for lawyers.

Steven Thiru, president of The Malaysian Bar, said Sunday’s incident demonstrated a worrying lack of understanding and an absence of moderation.

"Intolerance and the absence of moderation deny civil liberties and are usually seen as indicators of a deterioration of the rule of law," he said in a statement.

The fundamental right to freedom of religion and the right to practice one’s religion in peace are protected under Malaysia’s constitution. Federal and state authorities, therefore, are obliged to ensure that those constitutional rights are respected and that minority rights are protected, Thiru said.

On Sunday, some 50 people gathered outside a building housing a church in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, to demand that a cross affixed to the house of worship be removed. The protesters said the cross was “challenging Islam”, according to The Star Online.

Church authorities took down the cross in the afternoon. The protest has since come under severe criticism from some members of the public, opposition lawmakers, and Saifuddin Abdullah, a prominent member of the dominant United Malays National Organization.

Saifuddin said demanding that a church take down its cross was un-Islamic, and he called on Muslims to uphold the true message of the religion.

Meanwhile, the Petaling Jaya City Council has declared the church illegal, saying the corner shop unit did not have a license to operate as a place of worship nor did it have a permit to put up a cross on its façade, according to The Star Online.

“Shop lots that are converted into places of worship or meditation centres must comply with Act 133 Section 70(12) and a written application with the activities described must be submitted for approval," MBPJ public relations officer Zainun Zakaria was quoted as saying.

Zainun said no written application had yet been submitted by the church, but pointed out that its representatives could still do so.

All places of worship wishing to display a logo or symbol on the building must have the council’s permit, she said. “Be it a lotus, trident or a cross, a council permit is needed.”

Meanwhile, critics have slammed a decision by the country’s top police official not to investigate Sunday’s protest.

Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua said it was clear that the protesters breached either the Sedition Act or the Penal Code in demanding for the church's cross to be taken down. Yet Khalid Abu Bakar, the Inspector-General of Police, has told media he believes the protesters committed no crimes.

Original story: Church protest sign of extremism setting in, says Malaysian Bar and Church in cross controversy illegal, says report

Source: The Malaysian Insider

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