Catholic Church asks chief justice for full panel in ‘Allah’ appeal

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Keeping in mind that the leave application for the "Allah" case on March 5 involves the interpretation of key constitutional provisions, the Catholic Church has asked Malaysia's chief justice for a full panel comprising of Muslim and non-Muslim judges to hear its arguments.

One of the church's lawyers, S. Selvarajah, told The Malaysian Insider that he had sent a letter to Tun Arifin Zakaria yesterday to convey the Catholic Church’s request.

Selvarajah said given the nature of the issues raised, the church also instructed him to request that the panel comprise of judges who reflected the nation’s multiracial and multi-religious diversity.

"This is because fundamental constitutional provisions relating to state religion, freedom of minority religion, freedom of expression, which have far-reaching consequences for Malaysians of all races and religions, will be raised," according to the letter sighted by The Malaysian Insider.

Selvarajah said that the Court of Appeal ruling last year had also raised a serious public concern regarding the rights of minority religious groups to practise and profess their religions.

"A full bench of the Federal Court reflecting diversity in its composition would be most appropriate given the extensive public interest in the case," the letter stated.

The church has also notified Putrajaya, Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association and six religious councils about its request to the court.

All are against the application by the church to obtain leave and their counsels are expected to defend the Court of Appeal ruling.

So far, the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association and three councils said in an affidavit that the home minister, from 1986 to 2009, had reminded the church repeatedly that the use of “Allah” in place of "God" in the Catholic weekly Herald's Bahasa Malaysia section would create animosity among Malaysians.

They said the Court of Appeal judges' decision was based on facts, while the church had failed to provide credible evidence on its use of the word.

The councils of Malacca, Kedah and Johor have also said in affidavits that the apex court should not waste its time to allow leave and answer the 26 questions posed by the church.

The church has submitted 26 questions on the Constitution, administrative law as well as the power of the court to allow the home minister to ban the use of a theological word.

These questions were part of the application filed by lawyers for the church, seeking leave to appear before the Federal Court to challenge the Court of Appeal's ruling on the “Allah” issue.

Speaking to reporters after the launch of Legal Year 2014 at the Palace of Justice on January 11, Arifin said that the leave application would be heard by a five-member bench.

"I have gone through the issue and I don't think it warrants a full bench because it is a leave application," he said.

The practice of five judges hearing leave applications and appeals only started in January 2012, after Arifin assumed office.

Even on hearing the merit of appeals, the Federal Court since 1994 had only constituted a seven-man bench on two occasions for dadah-trafficking cases.

On having multiracial and religious judges, Arifin could co-opt judges from the Court the Appeal as it was allowed under the Federal Constitution.

On October 14, a three-member bench led by Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali – which allowed Putrajaya's appeal to ban the Herald from using the word “Allah” – said there was a 1986 directive by the Home Ministry that prohibited non-Muslim publications from using four words: "Allah", "Kaabah", "Solat" and "Baitullah".

Apandi in his judgment said the reason for the prohibition was to protect the sanctity of Islam and prevent any confusion among Muslims.

He also ruled that if the word was allowed to be used by Christians, it could threaten national security and public order.

Furthermore, the court said the prohibition was reasonable on grounds that the word "Allah" was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice.

The decision sparked an outcry among Christians and other non-Muslims in both the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak. – February 12, 2014.

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