Kosrae’s Malem Municipal Council introduces ordinance to ban religious freedom within its borders
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- Published: Monday, 07 March 2016 09:10
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Kosrae is the only FSM State that does not guarantee religious freedom in its Constitution
By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
February 15, 2016
Palikir, Pohnpei—In April of last year, Kosrae’s Malem Municipal Council introduced an ordinance to prohibit any activities by religions that are “not based on Christianity” in their municipality. The proposed ordinance specifically says that it intends to “ban Islam” and provides a $10,000 penalty on any person, organization, or group that violates any provision of the ordinance for each “offense”.
If passed, the ordinance would prohibit “...any practices or activities relating to non-Christian religions, including Islam, within the Municipality of Malem. This act prohibits individuals of non-Christian religions from the following “non- Christian activities or practices within the political boundaries of the Malem Municipality”:
• The gathering of two or more individuals to worship;
• Residing in Malem for the purpose of Islam or other non-Christian religion;
• Sponsoring of activities or project within the Malem Municipality;
• Receiving services provided by the Malem Municipality.
Any violation of the proposed ordinance would result in a $10,000 fine for each violation.
In the ordinance’s definition section (section 2), “Christian religion” is not defined which leaves the definition open to any number of interpretations. Several religious sects practice their religions in Malem, including Protestants, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. Each of those would have their own definition of what is required to be defined as a “Christian”.
Kosrae’s Constitution is the only Constitution of the four FSM States that does not specifically guarantee the right of religious freedom. It says that, “No law may deny or impair freedom of expression, peaceable assembly, association, or petition,” but that is as close as the Kosrae Constitution comes to protecting religious freedom.
The FSM Constitution does provide for religious freedom, as do the other States’ Constitutions, and the FSM Department of Justice has pointed that fact out.
In a letter to Malem Mayor Grant A. Jonas dated January 29, 2016, FSM’s Chief of Litigation Clayton Lawrence wrote that the FSM Department of Justice had just been made aware of the proposed ordinance. He warned that “the right to freely exercise one’s religion is a fundamental right protected by the FSM Constitution.” He reminded Mayor Jonas that the people of the FSM, including the people of Malem voted to approve the FSM Constitution as the supreme law of the land.
He wrote that the ordinance not only violates the FSM Constitution by impairing the fundamental right of the people to freely exercise their individual religious choices, “but the acts by the individuals fostering such ordinance has justified a criminal investigation and may result in criminal charges under 11 F.S.M.C. chapter 701.”
That chapter in the FSM Code says that “A person commits a crime if he or she willfully, whether or not acting under the color of law, deprives another of, or injures, oppresses, threatens, or intimidates another in the free exercise or enjoyment of, or because of his or her having so exercised any right, privilege, or immunity secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the Federated States of Micronesia, the laws of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, or the Constitution or laws of the United States of America which are applicable to the Federated States of Micronesia.”
It adds that the penalty for such a violation is “not more than ten years” and that they could also be civilly liable to the injured party.
The municipality’s proposed ordinance would not apply to any “people of Malem descent who have physically resided in Malem for not less than ten years.”
“The best response to misunderstandings is to open the door of communication. We are part of the fabric of the society in FSM and our intention is to share our message of Islam, we merely intend to win the hearts with love,” wrote Imam Mahmood Kauser. “The people of Kosrae are immensely peaceful and loving. They are open for discussions and wish to learn more. Therefore, the actions of a few does not reflect on the loving nature of the rest of the people of Kosrae. I welcome everyone to our residence in Malem. Let us work together for the betterment of this world, to increase our knowledge, to boost our friendships, and to forever live in peace and harmony.”
Mayor Jonas has not yet responded to the letter from the FSM Department of Justice and the ordinance has not yet been passed.