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June 21, 2007

The Malaysian Conundrum

On Wednesday May 30, 2007 Malaysia’s highest court ruled that they did not have the authority to help Lina Joy, a Malay Muslim, officially convert to Christianity and have that change reflected on her National Identity Card.   Depending on what you know about the Malaysian Constitution and their judicial system, this may or may not surprise you.  Obviously, I found it distressing.  When I then learned that Article 11, clause 1, of the Malaysian Constitution states, “Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause 4, to propagate it.” I grew more confused.  I should also mention that Article 3, clause 1, is “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.”  So why is Lina Joy screwed?  Welcome to the nightmare of the Malaysian Constitution butting heads with the Malaysian judicial system, and religion.
 
“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 inconsistency, be void,” Article 4, clause 1, the Malaysian Constitution.  Of course, the Malaysian Constitution is enough to make the average person bash their head against the wall, or maybe that was just me.  The Constitution became official in 1957 and has been amended approximately 42 times up through 2005.  The wrinkle is that every batch of amendments only counts as one, regardless of how many changes were actually made each time the Constitution was amended.  Thus, some scholars estimate that the true number of amendments has been more like 650.  Ouchie.  To help with your perspective, the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, takes up roughly nineteen 81/2x11 pages.  The Malaysian Constitution, in a similar font and format, uses up one hundred and sixty three 81/2x11 pages.  Most authorities agree that the Malaysian document was deliberately vague, because the founding fathers were unwilling to upset any of the three dominant groups at the time of independence from Britain, when building a multiracial and peaceful nation was more important.  Upon reading the document, a brain buster to say the least, I can safely say that the Malaysian Constitution is a somewhat conflicting piece of governance.  Among loads of things, it allows for the freedom of faith, yet it says that Islam is the official religion.  Anyone who understands the importance of separation of Church and State knows that this is a recipe for disaster.
 
I found several different numbers, so I’m taking the average.  Approximately 54% of Malaysians are Muslim, with the remainder being Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh.  Malaysia has long served as an example of the world’s most progressive and modern Muslim democracies.  I don’t want to put down Malaysia, it’s blend of religion and cultures is impressive and made for an awesome episode of “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain, but the more I’ve been learning, the more I have to say that Malaysia has some issues that terrify a born and raised American.  Here is where the fun starts.  Most native Malays, like Joy, are Muslim and have been for generations.  Muslims, by order of their faith have certain requirements, and in an effort of the Malaysian government to better serve the Muslim needs, which have different laws that apply to them, a Muslim’s National Identity Card identifies them as Islam.  In addition, to better serve the Muslim populations, they have their own court, the Shariah courts.  These courts deal in the family and personal affairs of Muslim citizens.  Civil courts see to the affairs of everyone else.  Bumiputra, Malays and other indigenous people, who are primarily Muslim, benefit from a 30 year-old program of privileges that require certain levels of ownership by bumiputra to be maintained and enforce hiring quotas within large companies.  Obviously, those standards continuing are dependent on the bumiputra staying a majority in Malaysia, and that religious conversions potentially can mess with those numbers.  All of this lays the groundwork for how Lina Joy was screwed.
 
In 1990, Azlina Jailani began attending a Christian church.  In 1998, she became baptized and filled out the paper work to have her name legally changed to Lina Joy.  She also requested that her religion on her National Identity Card be changed to Christian, so that she could marry her Christian fiancé.  Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed by law to marry people of other faiths.  The intended spouse is expected to convert to Islam.  Her name was legally changed, but both times she made the request to have Islam removed from the card, it was refused because she was ethnic Malay and was legally Muslim and could not change religions.  Citing Article 4, 3, and 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, Joy took her case to the civil courts, because she was a baptized Christian and felt that the Shariah courts should not be involved in the matter.
 
The Federal Court was divided 2 to 1 in its decision that the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the country’s civil courts and must be handled by religious authorities.  Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim said that the government agency responsible for identity cards acted reasonably when it refused to change Joy’s religious status.  According to the International Herald Tribune, he was quoted as saying, “She cannot at her own whim simply enter or leave her religion.  She must follow the rules.”  Yep, 8 years is very whimsical.  Silly girl.
 
What are these rules that Joy should follow?  She must offer proof in a special Muslim court that she has abandoned Islam and that the civil courts cannot interfere.  Oh, that’s not so tough.  Bearing in mind that according to Leonard Teoh Hooi Leong, a lawyer representing the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism (they’re called MCCBCHST for short…I’m serious), Joy will have a very difficult time getting the Islamic authorities to allow her to leave Islam.  No one in recent years has done it in the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, where Joy is registered.  He says that those who have tried have been threatened and cajoled.  Um, okay.  That’s tougher.  Oh, by the way, the abandonment of Islam is called apostasy, is deplored by many Muslims, and in several Malaysian states is punishable by fines and imprisonment.  (To show how progressive Malaysia is, in other Muslim countries the punishment could be death.)  Lina Joy’s fate now rests with the Shariah courts, and that would be why she is screwed.  The Malaysian Constitution does not clearly state who has the final say in such matters and so by default it goes to the Islamic court.
 
Judge Richard Malanjum, the one dissenting opinion, was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying Joy’s “fundamental constitutional right of freedom of religion” had been violated.  Also, “She is entitled to have an identity card in which the word Islam does not appear.”  Calling the agency’s refusal to officially change her religion “an abuse of power.”
 
Well amen brother!  The older I get, the more I appreciate the simplicity, yet effectiveness, of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  After trying to learn and weave my way through this mess, I would kiss every last person involved with the Philadelphia Convention.  Moreover, I don’t mean that figuratively.  Go!  Dig up their bones!  After learning all this, I appreciate them enough I would French kiss their decomposed remains!  Take heed friends, Malaysia is a shining example of what happens when there isn’t an effective separation of Church and State, and when civil liberties are whittled away at.  The next time someone is willing to make a concession and gives away even a sliver of our rights, all it’s doing is making it easier for them to take more away. 
 
In honor of Lina Joy and her plight, take a moment to read the Constitution of the United States of America, its Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments.  Savor the freedoms that our Constitution gives us that poor Lina Joy does not have access to.  http://www.constitutioncenter.org/constitution/constitution.pdf
 
 
 
Obviously, a dumb average American like me does not innately know all about the Malaysian Constitution and justice system.  I read many articles and visited many sites to cobble this together.  If you want to walk in my footsteps, here are the many websites I visited and articles I read:
 
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/30/news/malaysia.php
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=9403&size=A
http://www.nysun.com/article/55680
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Malaysia
http://www.pogar.org/publications/other/constitutions/malaysia-e.pdf (all 163 pages of Malaysian Constitutional headache!)
http://article11.org/
http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/content/view/1834/27/

June 11, 2007

Roman Catholic Womenpriests

Canon Law 1024, “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”  This is from the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, which was put forth on the feast of Pentecost in 1917, and later revised in 1983.  So when I see the statement that only a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly I feel forced to ask, “Says who?”  The answer is a bunch of guys in 1917.  Not good enough for me, nor is it good enough for the Roman Catholic Womenpriests.
 
In 2002, the Danube Seven were ordained.  The Danube Seven are a group of seven women from Germany, Austria, and the United States, who were ordained on a boat on the Danube (river that is) by Romulo Antonio Braschi.  Although Braschi has since left the Roman Catholic Church, he was at the time a valid Roman Catholic Bishop.  Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church viewed this as an extreme violation of Canon Law and when the women refused to repent, they were excommunicated and their ordination was invalidated.
 
A movement was born that is active to this day thanks to the efforts of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests (http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/index.htm).  In fact, on May 27, 2007 in Toronto (that’s in Canada for you kids playing along at home) 5 women and 1 married man were ordained as priests or deacons. 
In an article on Canadianchristianity.com (http://www.canadianchristianity.com/nationalupdates/070531priests.html) Father Damian MacPhearson, Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto was quoted as saying, “Since Roman Catholic doctrine forbids the ordination of women, the ordinations are automatically invalid.”  This is in response to the RCWP’s assertions that its ordinations are in apostolic succession since they began with ordination by a Roman Catholic Bishop.  MacPhearson was quoted in the same article stating, “Whatever happened today had no relationship to the Roman Catholic Church whatsoever, whatever those individuals may say.”  In case a church based smack down is not annoying enough, The National Post ran a brief, and I might I mention unattributed, editorial letter in response to the ordinations (http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/editorialsletters/story.html?id=a4bf9bc7-2ab7-4679-b341-8cc2008fb5b0).  In this piece, the author encourages the women to “go find another Christian sect” and suggests, “they (the RCWP) are less interested in reforming their faith than in putting on showy feminist stunts.”  To that I say, if you’re not man enough to sign your name, your opinion doesn’t matter.  I like my critics to have enough conviction to sign their name.  (In case you weren’t aware, Rebecca Elson is writing this piece.)
 
So, just what is the deal with these evil subversive women?  I went to their website and found “A Brief Overview of Womenpriests in the History of the Roman Catholic Church” (http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/RCWP_Resource.pdf).  It tells me that “In our mission statement we clearly uphold the following: The goal of the group ‘RC Womenpriests’ is to bring about the full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church.  At the same time we are striving for a new model of Priestly Ministry.  The movement ‘RC Womenpriests’ does not perceive itself as a counter-current movement against the Roman Catholic Church.  It wants neither a schism nor a break from the Roman Catholic Church, but rather wants to work positively within the Church.”  Those vixens!  In the same document they mention an equally world destroying opinion, which is “We All are church, not just some.” And that “We reflect the people we serve: married, celibate, domestic partners, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered.”  How dare they try to be all-inclusive and adapt to our modern society!  I mean, just because it’s largely known that in 1976, the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded that there is no biblical reason to prohibit women’s ordination, doesn’t give them any justification to feel that can be ordained Roman Catholic Priests!  Oh, wait, that is not too bad a justification. 
 
There’s more where that came from too.  To see more arguments to their point visit the link to their document.  However, just like a paranormal investigator speaking about skeptics, “For a believer there is already enough proof, but for the skeptic there will never be enough.”  Neil MacCarthy, a media relations representative for the Archdiocese of Toronto, says in the Canadianchristianity.com article that the Church “doesn’t have the authority to change the rules Jesus established.”  Then how and why were the Canon Laws revisited after 1917?  Also, I’m not a New Testament girl myself, but I doubt that Jesus said, “Don’t let women be priests.”  I could be wrong on that one.  Of course, not to worry, both MacPhearson and MacCarthy point out in that article that there have been statements made by recent Popes affirming the role of women.
 
I read one of the statements in question (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_let_29061995_women_en.html) and I was not impressed.  Don’t get me wrong, those Popes write some beautiful documents, but as a woman, I didn’t find it very satisfying at all.  Pope John Paul II thanks women for all the important roles they fill, but in my opinion, the Pope thanks us for being team players, but never offers the indication that he thinks we could ever coach.
 
After everything I’ve read, I have come to this conclusion, these women are Roman Catholic Priests and Deacons.  They are members of the Roman Catholic Church, and that despite what Father Damian MacPhearson says, everything these women do is in relationship of the Roman Catholic Church.  To say otherwise is ludicrous.  These women were baptized in the Roman Catholic faith and have never stepped off the path of that faith, and in fact were so inspired and moved by the Roman Catholic faith, that they desired to become ordained priests.  At what point do you feel they stopped being Roman Catholics?  I cannot see it.  The role of the Roman Catholic priest is unlike any other role within the Church, and to try to sell people on the idea of settling for a different position is outdated thinking.  It’s 1917 thinking.  It’s before the Pope was even televised kind of thinking!  Religions need to respect that 1917 is not 2007, and that their followers are not the same people that they were 90 years ago.  It is time; in my opinion, it’s well past the time, to allow women and married men the option of becoming priests.  I would also say homosexuals, but it’s the Roman Catholic Church, what do I expect, miracles?
 
 
 
I have been in contact with Bridget Mary Meehan, Media Contact with RCWPs.  She was kind enough to send me one of her published articles with permission to quote until my little heart was content.  It’s a thoughtful piece, and here are some of her thoughts that I would like to share with you.
 
The Catholic Church teaches that a law must be received by the faithful. Seventy percent of Catholics in the U.S. support women’s ordination.  Therefore canon 1024 which states that only a baptized male may receive Holy Orders does not have the force of law because it has not been accepted by the community or sensus fidelum.
 
In fact, we have a moral obligation to disobey this unjust law.  St. Augustine   said that an “unjust law is no law at all.” As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the former bishop of Rottenberg-Stuttgar, Germany and current president of the Vatican 's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity wrote: "Some situations oblige one to obey God and one's own conscience, rather than the leaders of the church. Indeed, one may even be obliged to accept excommunication, rather than act against one's conscience. It is time for an inclusive church, in which all are welcome at the table.” 
 

Amen.

June 01, 2007

Enlightenment is Hot

Okay, confession time…. I’m addicted to TMZ.com.  It’s constantly updating and consistently trashy.  When I have a spare moment, I type in www.tmz.com and lose myself to celebrity and quasi celebrity gossip.  I am sure it is understood, but the famous for being a rich party girl Paris Hilton is ALWAYS featured there.  Now with her 23-day, and continually dropping, jail sentence announced, the photo/journalists are going ape shit with inconsequential Paris Hilton crap.  Nonetheless, there is something that captured my imagination.
 
On May 22, 2007 TMZ.com ran their blurb “Holy S**t!  Paris Turns to Religion?!”  (http://www.tmz.com/2007/05/22/holy-s-t-paris-turns-to-religion/)  It shows Paris walking around with the Bible and “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment”.  Weird?  Yes.  Next, and don’t tell me how my guys at TMZ.com missed getting me this one, several “news” sources wrote about how on May 24, 2007 Paris was spotted shopping for Buddhist literature at the legendary Hollywood Buddhist Mecca The Bodhi Tree.  Now today, the TMZ.com gang speculates as to what evening class Hilton was attending at the Bel Air Presbyterian church.  (http://www.tmz.com/2007/05/31/paris-like-a-prayer/)
 
For some reason many people are voicing the opinion that Hilton’s new found interest in religion is an attempt to sway the court or the Governator Arnold to lessen her sentence or pardon her.  I have to admit, my inner catty bitch went there too, but then I took a step back and approached it again.
 
Paris’ sentence has already been dropped to under a month.  She is going to be in a “special needs” section of the prison, with a hand picked cellmate.  You know, where they put celebrities, with a cellmate who is unlikely to leak stuff to the press, and one assumes not rough up Paris.  Even if Paris is as vapid as she portrays herself in public, there is no way she thinks the Governor is wasting a pardon on her.  To put it bluntly, she’s going to jail and it’s going to be as much of a cake walk as time in prison can possibly be, and I’m pretty certain she knows it.  So, is there any reason to put on a show for anyone?  You could argue it’s a show for the court of public opinion, but let’s face it, she’s rich and beautiful, and jail isn’t ruining her “celebrity”.
 
I would like to propose a crazy idea.  Perhaps Paris Hilton is genuinely interested in learning about religious beliefs.  She screwed up in a stupid way.  A potentially dangerous way.  DUIs kill people.  I would want to re-evaluate my life if I were in her very trashy, yet outrageously expensive, shoes.  Many people find help through religion, why can’t Paris Hilton?
 
I know it may, and probably is, just a phase, but I welcome and encourage the spiritual seeker.  If Paris Hilton wants to learn about faith, why on Earth should I poke fun or take cheap shots?  (I mean aside from the cheap shots I already took?)  I think learning about different belief systems and examining faith is a worthwhile endeavor.  So Paris, being rich and beautiful is cool, but enlightenment?  That’s hot.

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