IN February 1957, an independent Commission headed by Rt. Honourable Lord Reid submitted proposals for a new governance and administration for the independent Malaya. Along with them was the draft Constitution based largely on the model of the Constitution of India 1950. Five months later, the British Parliament passed the Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957 to make provision for the Federation of Malaya to be established as an independent sovereign country within the commonwealth. The Federation of Malaya Agreement (Aug 5, 1957) and the Federal Constitution Ordinance No. 55 (Aug 27,1957) followed.
Thus, the Reid Commission remarked: “A Federal Constitution defines and guarantees the rights of the Federation and the States; it is usual and in our opinion right that it should also define and guarantee certain fundamental individuals rights which are generally regarded as essential conditions for a free and democratic way of life.”
Although constitutional amendments require the vote of not less than two-thirds of the total members of each House of Parliament, it has been amended 41 times from 1957 to 1996, 1 to accommodate the inclusion of new states into the 1963 federation, and in response to various political tensions.
Still, why should we defend our constitution? “The collapse of the Constitution is the collapse of the nation.” This remark was made by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Sept 29, 2003, who was then the deputy prime minister and now our prime minister. Because the Federal Constitution is the backbone of our country’s sovereignty and pillar for the nation’s overall stability, it is therefore important for us to respect and uphold the provisions in the Constitution as affirmed by Datuk Badawi.
As responsible Christians, it is helpful to know our constitutional rights so that we know how to rightly respond to and pray against actions that challenge our religious rights. Following are some of the provisions (out of 183 articles) concerning our rights and freedom to worship the Lord Jesus Christ:
(1) Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.
(1) This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
(2) Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.
(1) Subject to Clauses (2), (3) and (4):
(a) every citizen has the right to freedom of speech and expression; (b) all citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms; (c) all citizens have the right to form associations.
(2) Parliament may by law impose:
(a) on the rights conferred by paragraph (a) of Clause (1), such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality and restrictions designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or of any Legislative Assembly or to provide against contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any offence;
(b) on the right conferred by paragraph (b) of Clause (1), such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof, or public order;
(c) on the right conferred by paragraph (c) of Clause (1), such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof, public order or morality.
(3) Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by paragraph (c) of Clause (1) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.
(4) In imposing restrictions in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof or public order under Clause
(2) (a), Parliament may pass law prohibiting the questioning of any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III, article 152, 153 or 181 otherwise than in relation to the implementation thereof as may be specified in such law.
(1) Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.
(2) No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own.
(3) Every religious group has the right to: manage its own religious affairs; establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; and acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law.
(4) State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
(5) This Article does not authorise any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.
(2) Every religious group has the right to establish and maintain institutions for the education of children in its own religion, and there shall be no discrimination on the ground only of religion in any law relating to such institutions or in the administration of any such law; but it shall be lawful for the Federation or a State to establish or maintain or assist in establishing or maintaining Islamic institutions or provide or assist in providing instruction in the religion of Islam and incur such expenditure as may be necessary for the purpose.
(3) No person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own.
(4) For the purposes of Clause (3), the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.
If any State law is inconsistent with a federal law, the federal law shall prevail and the State law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void. – Contributed by NECF Malaysia
Research Executive Lim Siew Foong
Federal Constitution of Malaysia – A Commentary. Kuala Lumpur: Malaysian Current Law Journal Sdn Bhd, 1986
Federal Constitution (as at 10 th Sept. 2002). Petaling Jaya, Sel.: International Law Book Services, 2002
Footnote: 1 PL Tan, ‘Malaysia’ in PL Tan (ed), Asian Legal Systems: Law, Society and Pluralism in East Asia, Sydney, Butterworths, 1997, p 271