A High Court judge in Malaysia has vindicated the free exercise rights of a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, in an oral opinion handed down today. Bernama and the Wall Street Journal report on the decision that upholds the right of the paper to use the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition to refer to God. The Home Ministry had banned the paper from using the term, and the paper filed suit to challenge the restriction. (See prior posting.) Judge Datuk Lau Bee Lan held that while Sec. 11(4) of the Malaysian Constitution permits a ban on the use of the term by non-Muslims who are attempting to proselytize Muslims, the Constitutional protections of free expression (Sec. 10) and free exercise of religion (Secs. 11 and 12) permit the paper to use the term in material directed at other Christians. The government had argued that The Herald's online edition can be accessed by Muslims, but the court said that it is enough of a safeguard that the paper is in fact read mainly by Christians. Its main audience is indigenous tribes who converted to Christianity decades ago. The Mandarin, English and Tamil editions do not use the term. The court's decision can be appealed. (See prior related posting.)
UPDATE: The Malay (1/2) reports that the Prime Minister's Department in cooperation with the Home Ministry will appeal the High Court's decision.
UPDATE2: On Jan. 6, the High Court granted the Home Ministry a stay of its order while an appeal is taken to the Court of Appeal. (Outlook India; AP.)