July 26th, 2011 by Hafiz Noor Shams
I am a secularist. I strongly believe in the separation of the state and religion. At the very least, the state should not interfere in personal belief within libertarian constraint and religion should not influence the state to the extent that it transgresses individual liberty.
Although there are other concerns I have written throughout this blog of mine, my primary concern here contextualized within the latest development on the issue revolves around negative individual liberty.
Religion and other personal beliefs are private matters. As long as these beliefs do not contradict individual liberty, the state should get out of the bedroom so-to-speak. Recall the base function of the liberal state: the protection of individual negative liberty.
The separation between the state and religion prevents religion from hijacking the state, and the state from controlling any religion. At one fell swoop, the separation goes a long way in guaranteeing freedom of religion and other individual rights that might come into conflict with religious beliefs.
This is not just some academic concern. It is a real worry in Malaysia. Existing institutions apply highly corrosive effects on individual rights granted through individual liberty. There are religious police in Malaysia.
Within Malaysian context, the roles of Islam in the state are repulsive. Before I am being misconstrued, I am referring to the relevant religious institutions in Malaysia, not the religion itself.
There is a need to reduce the prominence of these Islamic institutions that exert unduly coercive influence on liberty. The state controls Islam and the Islam as in the form sanctioned by the state and through apparatus of the state exerts suffocating stranglehold on individuals who refuse to bow.
The latest news has it that Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia will lobby for the formation of a non-Muslim affairs ministry, again. I wrote again because it has been raised since as early as 2007. This should be seen in parallel to the state of Islam in Malaysia.
Will non-Muslims be forced to fit the mould of certain religion they identify themselves with? Will the government try to interfere in how non-Muslims practice their religion?
Even if the answers are no, it will give the state a piece of the pie. The Church and its merry men, which themselves have not-so-impeccable reputation as far as individual liberty are concerned, will have to share that pie of tyranny.
For an illiberal government eager of telling individual what to believe in, perhaps the formation of that ministry is consistent.
Yet, an illiberal government is not the ideal government for me.
I oppose the formation of the ministry. The formation will give greater legitimacy to moral policing within Islam. It gives legitimacy to the division and compartmentalization of society to coerce free persons. We already have two laws in this land, one for one group and another one for another. One is free, and the other is not as far as libertarians are concerned. The establishment of non-Muslim affairs ministry will strengthen that illiberal dichotomy.
Religion should play less significant roles in the state. That ministry will only enhance the roles of religion, and at the same time, the scope of the state. There should be less government, not more. There is already a lot of room for tyranny in the state. Why should more space be made for tyranny?
A certain somebody a long time ago said the era of government knows best is over. Now is yet another chance to prove whether that statement was made in good faith or not. Prove it by not dictating private individual beliefs. Prove it by rejecting the religious lobbyists out right.
 — KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 — The Roman Catholic Church here will lobby for a non-Islamic affairs ministry now that Malaysia has formalised ties with the Vatican, says Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam. [Debra Chong. Catholic Church plugs for non-Muslim affairs ministry. The Malaysian Insider. July 26 2011]