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Discipline the Little Napoleons

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It is indeed a relief that Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has given an assurance that non-Mulsim religious clubs or societies are not banned in schools.

Muhyiddin has pledged that school clubs and societies related to non-Muslim activities that have been in operation for decades need not be disbanded.

He said the Education Ministry has not issued any directive for such clubs or societies to close.

If such is the case, then disciplinary action must be taken against the officials of the Selangor Education Department and certain school heads who have been flexing their muscles to curb religious activities by the non-Muslim students in the schools.

The recent case of the Klang High School being ordered to close its non-Muslim religious clubs is not an isolate case.

Take the case of the Christian Fellowship (CF) of SMK SS17 Subang Jaya, which has been in existence for more than 10 years before it was banned. It existed even before the 16 December 2000 Surat Pekeliling, compelling any such new non-Muslim religious clubs and societies to obtain approval from the Selangor Education Department before being allowed to operate.

The CF of SMK SS17 Subang Jaya had complied with and met all the conditions as per the 16 December 2000 Surat Pekeliling, but was not officially registered with the Selangor Education Department. In fact, since it was an existing club, there was no requirement for it to be registered. It was a de facto legal entity.

However, in a letter dated 10 March 2009 (ref. JPNS/SPS/PPN/A25080/06/06 Jld. 3), the Pengarah Pelajaran Negeri Selangor, Dr Haji Zahri Aziz, told the SMK SS17 Subang Jaya that the CF and the Buddhist Society were not allowed to be registered (tidak dibenarkan) with the state education department. The new headmistress Puan Zuariah Yusof then ordered the CF and Buddhist Society to cease operation and banned their student members from meeting.

The unilateral decision of the Selangor Education Department to ban the CF and the Buddhist Society is certainly unwarranted and unjustified, a gross violation of the human and consititution rights of the non-Muslim students.

Article 11 of the Federal Constitution on the Freedom of Religion specifically states that:

Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause 4, to propagate it.

No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in pairs, part for the purpose of a religion other than his own.

Every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs, to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes, and to aquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with the law.

The high-handed manner in which the Selangor Education Department ordered the closure of non-Muslim religious societies in SMK SS17 Subang Jaya, and perhaps other schools in the state, is a direct contradiction of the statement of Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that no directive has been issued by the ministry to ban the non-Muslim clubs and socities.

That means that the top officials of the Selangor Education Departments had issued the discriminative directive on their own whims and fancies, in violation of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, without authorisation, and in insubordination and recalcitrance against the federal government policies.

If such is the case, it will certainly be appalling, outrageous and scandalous if no disciplinary action is taken against such irresponsible and ignominious public officers who give the government of the day a bad image.

As Rev Dr Thomas Philips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism & Taoism (MCCBCHST), said in the Klang High School case, such a unilateral decision should be opposed with the strongest possible vehemence.

In the SMK SS17 Subang Jaya case, there is no need for its CF to be registered as it has already been existence before 16 December 2000, the date of the Surat Pekeliling.

The school has the log books of the CF meetings during that time. Clause 2 states that CF can be formed after the registrar (Pengarah Pendidikan Negeri) has considered and is satisfied with an application for a school CF. This clause applies only to schools whose CFs have yet to come into existence before 16 December 2000. Clause 3 states that where the school already has a CF, the society can continue to carry on its functions.

Nevertheless, to ensure that all legal requirements are met, the CF of the SMK SS17 Subang Jaya applied to the Selangor Education Department to be registered.

The school then received a letter from the Selangor Education Department that the application to register its CF was rejected.

This case brings to the fore the very significant question of why non-Muslim religious clubs and societies in schools must be approved and registered with the Education Department. Are the other clubs and societies in schools, such as the Art Club, the Speech and Debating Society, the Music and Drama Society, the School Band, etc, required to seek the approval of the Education Department before they are allowed to be formed?

If not, why must the non-Muslim religious clubs and societies in schools be the exception and be forced to apply for approval?

In the SMK SS17 Subang Jaya case, the CF applied for approval but the Selangor Education Department rejected its application. On what ground?

In connection with the directive to get approval for setting up non-Muslim religious clubs in school, I am shocked with the dumbest explanation on this issue made by Deputy Education Minister Datuk Wee Ka Siong.

Wee was quoted by The Star as saying that "schools could not reject such applications", and "a circular signed by the ministry's director-general Datuk Shukor Abdullah in December 2000 did not mention that applications to register such organisations could be rejected".

It is simply flabbergasting that such preposterous and nonsensical explanation could be given by a deputy minister of education. If such application cannot be rejected, why on earth does a non-Muslim religious club has to apply for registration with the state education department?

Deputy Prime Minister cum Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's assurance that the federal government does not ban non-Muslim religious clubs and societies in schools is not the end of the story.

What Muhyiddin should do is to issue a directive lifting all restrictions for the formation of the non-Muslim religious clubs and societies in schools. In other words, make sure the instruction is properly understood and applied by those smart-alec civil servants who should be curbed for flexing their muscles and using bullying tactics.

The freedom to believe, practise and teach one's religious beliefs and faith is a universal God-given right, enshrined in our Federal Constitution and in the international human rights instruments of the United Nations, and no Little Napoleon in the Malaysian civil service should be allowed to violate it.

The federal government needs to show that it is fair and just to all Malaysians, irrespective of colour, creed, culture, or class, by ensuring that those civil servants that thwart, frustrate, and sabotage the multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual nation-building process should be brought to book and disciplined.

MySinchew 2010-07-26


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