KUCHING: Religious freedom is here to stay, though Islam is the country’s official religion, says Minister of Infrastructure Development and Communication Dato Sri Michael Manyin.
He said Sarawak under the leadership of Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud had shown the way how freedom of religion should be practised.
“Our chief minister is really practising the freedom of religion. He doesn’t impose religion on anyone, whether it is Islam or other religions.
“Probably, we (Sarawak) are the most free (in the country) to choose our own religion,” Manyin told the media after performing the earth-breaking ceremony of St Ann’s new church building at Kota Padawan near here yesterday.
Manyin, who has been tasked by the state government to represent the Catholics in Sarawak, stressed that under Taib, the people had been guaranteed the freedom to profess any religion of their choice.
“Whatever they (the opposition) have said is merely political rhetoric,” he said, dismissing all claims by the opposition that religious freedom in the state had been eroding ever since the state joined the federation of Malaysia in 1963.
Manyin also stressed that freedom of religion also meant that people could change their religions based on their legal rights and personal choice.
“People, who switched religion, say for instant from Catholic to the Borneo Evangelical Church (SIB) and vice-versa or even embraced Islam…all these are personal choices.
“For me, the freedom of religion is still there, and it’s still intact especially under the present government leadership.”
Manyin also clarified that the state’s official religion is Islam as it followed the country’s official religion.
“Though Islam is the official religion of the federation, we are free to practise our own faiths as enshrined in the federal constitution.
“The fact that we are free to practise our religions without being harassed means that there is religious freedom in the country.”
The new church is expected to cost some RM6 million and the whole complex would cost some RM17 million. However, as funds are insufficient, the implementation would be carried out in stages.
The earth-breaking ceremony was jointly performed by the Archbishop of Kuching Archdiocese, His Grace Archbishop John Ha.
Other dignitaries present at the ceremony were Assistant Minister of Public Health Dr Jerip Susil, the state’s legal advisor Datuk
JC Fong, Temenggong Datu Stephen Jussem and some 500 devotees.