Friday, 4 March 2011

Freedom of Speech and Changing Laws

I'm finally breaking with the theme of this blog and will write a piece that is not addressed to anyone. Merely just airing my thoughts.

On 03rd March 2011, it was reported that "(United States of America) Supreme Court sides with churchgoers who picketed military funeral". The full report can be found at the bottom of this post.

About the same time, it was reported that "Christian politician killed by Pakistani gunmen (in Pakistan)". The full report can be found at the bottom of this post.

Both stories troubled me. Below are my views.

This is supposed to be the current outer limits of freedom of speech in the US of A today

Supreme Court sides with churchgoers who picketed military funeral - March 3, 2011,0,7382749.story

"... the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that even anti-gay protesters who picketed the funerals of U.S. troops with signs reading, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," cannot be sued ... In an 8-1 decision ... Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that when the disputed words "address matters of public import on public property" and when the protest is conducted "in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials," they are protected."

The Westboro Baptist Church protest. Undoubtedly, they have NO CLASS. It's a funeral lah for goodness sake. Certain things are sacrosanct.
Does the law in the US of A says they can act like idiots? Yes.
Is that law a good law? Yes.
Are they idiots nonetheless? Yes yes yes.
I'll say no more on this because buang masa commenting on idiocy.

Christian politician killed by Pakistani gunmen -

"Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities on Wednesday, ... for urging reform of harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam."

The shooting of the minister in Pakistan.

As far as I know, asking for reform to a country's laws via the legal way is the correct way for civilized people to effect change. Opposing views can be ventilated in the normal way and whatever happens, the PROCESS will eventually decide whether a law is changed, or not. The losers can fight another day, or leave the country if they think it's a zero sum game of reform or die (it's not. Nothing usually is).

I am reminded of what happened in our country about 2 years ago when Zulkifli Nordin announced that he was going to propose a private member's bill/motion to amend Article 3, 4 & 11, and also Sch 9 of the Constitution. 2 articles - first, and second.

I supported him because even though I do not agree with his proposed amendments, he was absolutely right to try to effect change in that manner.

Shooting a guy you disagree with is, therefore, in my mind, an incorrect method to express dissent.

I wonder if anyone will join me in the above views?


Supreme Court sides with churchgoers who picketed military funeral
The justices say members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas have the right to carry anti-gay and other signs at U.S. troops' funerals, however offensive their message may be considered.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau

March 3, 2011

Reporting from Washington
Ruling in a case that pressed the outer limits of free speech, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said that even anti-gay protesters who picketed the funerals of U.S. troops with signs reading, "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," cannot be sued.

In an 8-1 decision, the justices upheld an appellate court's decision to strike down a jury verdict against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. Phelps and his family gained national attention — and stirred deep anger — for using military funerals as a backdrop to proclaim an anti-gay and anti-military message.

The church believes that the United States is too tolerant of sin and that the death of American soldiers is God's punishment.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that when the disputed words "address matters of public import on public property" and when the protest is conducted "in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials," they are protected.

Roberts cited past rulings that shielded offensive words and outrageous protests.

He pointed to the decision that freed protesters who burned the American flag and another that protected a Hustler magazine satirist who portrayed the Rev. Jerry Falwell in an outhouse. Last year, Roberts spoke for the court in striking down on free-speech grounds a law that made it crime to sell videos of illegal dog-fighting.

The "bedrock principle underlying the 1st Amendment," Roberts said in quoting the flag-burning ruling by the late liberal Justice William J. Brennan Jr., is that the government cannot punish words or ideas "simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

The decision Wednesday drew a howl of protest from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. — like Roberts, a conservative — who said that the father of the dead Marine who sued the protesters was "not a public figure" who could be expected to tolerate such an onslaught, but a private person who sought to "bury his son in peace."

"Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case," Alito wrote. "In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims."

Five years ago, Phelps and his daughters were sued after they picketed near the funeral for Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq in 2006.

Police had kept picketers at least 200 feet from the funeral procession. The demonstrators' signs included one that said, "Thank God for IEDs," a reference to the roadside bombs that have claimed many soldiers' lives in Iraq.

The messages did not refer to the late Marine. His father, Albert Snyder, testified that he saw the signs only when he watched television coverage in the evening.

A few weeks later, however, Snyder saw a posting on Westboro church's website that scorned him and said he had raised his son to serve the devil.

A jury awarded Snyder $11 million in damages for the emotional distress he suffered, but a judge reduced the amount to $5 million. A U.S. appeals court, siding with the Phelps family, said the verdict could not stand.

The Supreme Court took up the case of Snyder vs. Phelps. The issue was difficult for the justices because the public picketing targeted a private family funeral.

If the picketing had taken place at the Pentagon or Capitol Hill, no one would have questioned the Phelps' right to carry their signs, even with their offensive messages.

Lawyers for the father argued that the verdict should stand because he was a private figure, not a public person, and because the protest was a targeted assault on a private memorial service.

In the end, the justices concluded the picketing was more a public protest than a mean-spirited private assault.

The picketing, Roberts wrote, "is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner."

"On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Roberts wrote. "As a nation we have chosen a different course — to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The decision does not appear to affect the laws in 43 states that seek to keep the protesters away from military funerals. In the past, the court has said that officials may regulate where marches and protests take place, so long as they do not ban them or their message entirely.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars said they were "greatly disappointed with the result."

"The Westboro Baptist Church may think they have won, but the VFW will continue to support community efforts to ensure no one hears their voice," said Richard Eubank, the VFW's national commander.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times


Christian politician killed by Pakistani gunmen

The AP reports:

Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities on Wednesday, the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure threatened by Islamist militants for urging reform of harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's Christian community, was another major blow to Pakistan's besieged liberals, who say the attacks are a symptom of an increasingly radicalized Muslim-majority public. Earlier this year, Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard who said he was angry that the politician opposed the blasphemy laws — and many ordinary Pakistanis praised the murderer.

Bhatti was on his way to work in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when gunmen riddled his car with bullets, police officer Mohmmad Iqbal said. The minister arrived dead at Shifa Hospital and his driver was also wounded badly, hospital spokesman Asmatullah Qureshi said.

Pakistan’s minorities gripped by fear and despair

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but private Pakistani TV channels showed pamphlets at the scene of the killing that were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban warning of the same fate for anyone opposing the blasphemy laws.


Zulkifli Noordin’s jihad
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 05:30pm

©The Nut Graph (Used by permission)
by Shanon Shah

PARTI Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Member of Parliament (MP) Zulkifli Noordin recently tried to move a series of constitutional amendments that would elevate the status of Islam in the country's administration.

We know what he is asking for, but do we actually know why he is doing it? The Nut Graph spoke exclusively to Zulkifli via e-mail, and he tells us what his motivations and strategies are.

TNG: What are the chances of your motions — to amend the Federal Constitution — being heard in Parliament? According to PKR vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah, it is virtually impossible for opposition MPs to have their motions heard in Parliament because of Standing Order 15(1) which privileges government business.
Zulkifli Noordin: I agree that it is almost impossible for a private member's motion to be tabled and debated in Parliament because of Standing Order 15(1). However, there is always that slim chance that it may see the light, especially if anyone in government, especially a minister, picks it up.

I'm betting on those chances, hoping maybe any of the ministers will pick up on the motion. As the saying goes, you stand a better chance of getting a fish if you cast your line. So why not give it a try?

Why have you brought these motions forward, especially the ones to amend the Federal Constitution to elevate the status of Islam?

It is my opinion that based on the principle of freedom of religion as enshrined in Article 11(1), every person has the right to profess and practise his or her religion.

As you are aware, Islam is not a religion concentrating only on ritualistic practices. It is a religion that encompasses a whole body of jurisprudence that covers the entire aspect of life. From the simple issue of what to wear, to what to eat, how to govern, the economy, business, law, and so on.

So I believe Muslims should be allowed to profess and practise their religion to the fullest. And anything that prevents a Muslim from doing so should be removed, especially legal barriers. For example, a Muslim flight attendant with MAS or AirAsia should be allowed to cover herself, if she chooses to, in accordance with the Islamic dress code.

The same also applies to Muslims who commit crimes, for example, theft or murder and so on. Subjecting a Muslim to a non-Muslim law will be very unfair to him or her, unless he or she chooses to be subjected to that law.

If Muslims are tried based on Islamic law and jurisprudence, and then convicted or sentenced, that will not only serve as punishment in the world. It is also a means to relieve punishment in the hereafter as they have already been punished in accordance with Allah's law in the worldly realm. A Muslim's conviction or sentence in accordance with human-constructed laws will only serve as punishment to him or her in the worldly realm, but will not relieve him or her of punishment in the hereafter.

That's the reason, you see, that I have proposed almost 20 motions that are inter-related.

One thing I wish to highlight is that none of the motions will subject non-Muslims to Islamic law or jurisprudence. It only covers, and only subjects, Muslims to Islamic laws and jurisprudence.

If the motions do get a chance to be debated, do you think you will be able to get the requisite support from the floor to pass the amendment?

I believe in this verse: "If you assist Allah in His religion, He will assist you and put you in a firm position." (Al Quran, Surah Muhammad, Verse 30)

There are 132 Muslim MPs in Parliament currently. Any Muslim worth his or her salt would definitely support the motions that I've put forward.

Sivarasa says this is merely your personal view and not the party's stand. I'd like to clarify with you whether or not the party, or Pakatan Rakyat, is supporting you in your motions?

I agree that those motions are my personal crusade. I don't even know what is PKR's stand on this issue. I do wish that PKR would make a very clear stand.

I must say, though, that there is an understanding among the Pakatan Rakyat [about] respect for freedom of religion and for Islam being the official religion. But on the general stand of PKR that every person has the right to profess and practise his or her religion, I believe the stand that I take does not contradict the general stand. I am merely upholding the right of Muslims to profess and practise their religion.

Will you keep pursuing these motions, even if they are not given the chance to be debated this time around?

Definitely! It is my personal jihad to uphold the right of Muslims to profess and practise their Islamic religion. And I will do so to my last breath. If I have to die in doing so, then I'm more than happy to give my soul for that struggle. It is my jihad to do so.

The big question that Muslims are asking now is, can we have our lives as Muslims back? And I'm nothing but an instrument of Allah to achieve just that — we Muslims just want our lives back.


You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
written by Jason Kay Kit Leon, Wednesday, March 25 2009 11:52 pm

I'm glad to see Zul Nordin trying to change the law in this legally proper manner.

Jason Kay Kit Leon


Zulkifli moves to amend Federal Constitution
By Shanon Shah | 23 March 2009 |

PETALING JAYA, 23 March 2009: Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Member of Parliament (MP) Zulkifli Noordin has tried to move four motions in Parliament to amend the Federal Constitution regarding the status of Islam.

The first motion is to amend Article 3(1) to: “Islam is the religion of the Federation, including in terms of laws and legislation.”

The second motion proposes to amend Article 4(1) to: “This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and, except for Islamic laws and legislation, any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

The third motion proposes to amend Article 11(1) to: “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion, including changing his religion except for those adhering to Islam who must be subject to Islamic laws and legislation.

“To define those who adhere to Islam, the question of conversion to or apostasy from Islam must be determined by the syariah courts, which have absolute authority over the matter.”

The fourth motion is to amend the Ninth Schedule, List 2(1) to expand the powers of the syariah courts to try, judge and sentence non-conforming Muslims in accordance to Islamic laws and legislation.

In this motion, Zulkifli also asks for the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 to be amended accordingly.

Zulkifli is also trying to move 16 other motions, some of which involve elevating the status of Islam, but these do not entail constitutional amendments.

These motions were published in the Dewan Rakyat’s Order Paper, dated 16 March 2009.

The Nut Graph made several efforts to contact Zulkifli for more details about the motions but was unsuccessful.

Personal, not party views

However, PKR vice-president R Sivarasa dismissed concerns about the controversial MP’s motions, and told The Nut Graph: “These are Zulkifli’s personal views — the party doesn’t endorse those views.”

Sivarasa Sivarasa added that Zulkifli’s motions would most likely not even come up for discussion.

As of 16 March, Zulkifli’s motions were listed at the bottom of 65 motions being moved in Parliament.

“This is what I experienced myself when I tried several times to move a private member’s bill for freedom of information legislation last year,” Sivarasa said.

Sivarasa said that parliamentary systems in other democratic countries allow for a certain number of days during which opposition-sponsored bills, private members’ bills, or other motions can be discussed.

He said the Malaysian Parliament’s Standing Order 15(1) for the Dewan Rakyat, however, states that government business has precedence over private members’ business.

Zulkifli was a prominent participant in the 300-strong demonstration against the Bar Council forum Conversion to Islam: Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini and Shamala Revisited on 9 Aug 2008, together with others from PKR, PAS, Umno and various Muslim non-governmental organisations.

He was given a show cause letter by his party on 7 Sept 2008, but publicly refused to apologise for his actions. After delaying action on Zulkifli for months, PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali said on 5 March 2009 that the matter had been “settled internally” some time in 2008.

Syed Husin declined, however, to elaborate on how the matter was settled.


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