[Blog] The Constitutional Right of Freedom of Expression is beyond religion by Jose Mario De Vega

The Constitutional Right of Freedom of Expression is beyond religion
by Jose Mario De Vega

This refers to “Don’t gossip about the case, Christians urged”, (The Star, July 3) concerning an article which originally appeared at the Strait Times/Asia News Network that centered on the prevailing controversy being face by the City Harvest Church.

As the said article noted:

“Its founding pastor, Kong Hee, and four senior church leaders were charged with allegedly misappropriating millions of church funds.”

The case is now lodged in court of competent jurisdiction in Singapore.

I agree with the several religious leaders at some churches who “reminded their followers during Sunday worship services that the charges against City Harvest Church were directed at individuals and not the church, or religion in general.”

That, in my view is the correct view and utterly the right words to say under the circumstances.
The charge against Kong is for “allegedly siphoning off nearly S$23 million (RM 57 million) of the congregation’s money to support his wife’s singing career.”

According to the AFP:

“Pastor Kong Hee, 47, faced three charges of criminal breach of trust relating to the misuse of the funds of the City Harvest Church, one of Singapore’s biggest with a membership of over 30, 000.

“Kong was accused of dishonestly misappropriating monies from the church’s building fund over several years to support the career of his wife Ho Yeow Sun, who tried to become a music star in the United States.

“The church, which has affiliates in neigbouring Malaysia and other countries, is known for services that resembles pop concerts.”

Besides Kong, four other church executive were arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department, a unit set up by the police to fight financial crime last Tuesday.

Based on Singaporean law, they could face life imprisonment, as well as fine if convicted.
My issue in this case is the interest of the public or the public interest.

Public interest simply means that the state through its duly constituted authority and agency which is no other than the government is empowered by the constitution, the relevant statutes and law and the whole body politic to act boldly and move swiftly the moment an organ of the community or society at large (whether public or private, an individual or an association, a group or an institution) violates or transgress the law of the land or committed acts which are prejudicial and detrimental to the common good which is the very interest of the public.

That in an elementary form is the basic principle of the Police Power of the State; the sole purpose of which is to defend and protect the welfare and well-being of the people and the citizens as a whole.

Of course, the said principle or power is not unlimited or unquestionable. That is why in every constitution, there is the corresponding Bill of Rights to serve both as a defense and a permanent injunction to the arbitrariness and excesses of the enormous power of the state.

In the case at bar, Kong and four of his associates are about to be tried by a competent court.

Hence, let the judicial process run its due course. Let justice be serve and the right to triumph.

My second issue with regard to this case is the apparent gag order or diktat by the various Christian groups to their members and congregation which commanded them not to talk about, gossip or discuss the said case whether orally or through the internet.
Those Christian leaders said that instead of talking and/or gossiping about the facts of the case, the members should rather pray for the church instead.
Commentaries:

Point one. What is wrong for a member or a bunch of members to talk, gossip and discuss the merit and the propriety of the case?

It is my firm view that the membership themselves up to the a particular member do have all the moral and the legal standing to ask, to inquire, to ‘gossip’ and to know everything which concerns the said organization, whether it pertains to the leader’s management style, policies, structure and especially the financial matters.

In every organization, the power lies to its members not its leaders; for the undeniable reason that the members themselves are indisputably the very backbone of the organization. Take away the members and there is no more organization that will be able to stand or be able to exist!
Hence, the members incontestably have a say on all matters and they have all the right to posed all the questions, demand answers and ultimately know the score and the truth!

It is in this great sense that, it is my uncompromising stand and firm view that the order or the call of the leaders not to ‘gossip’ about the case is patently stupid, downright preposterous and completely ridiculous!

What is their moral right to issue such a call? Correspondingly, what is their legal right to order the members not to talk or to ‘gossip’ about the case?

For all legal intents and purposes, it is only the court which is handling the case have the lawful right to order the legal and respective parties-in-interest not to discuss and talk about the merits of the case based on the Latin doctrine of the sub judice rule.

No religious leaders for that matter have the right to order silence or to demand the members to shut up. The gag order or that dubious call is a clear case of theocratic dictatorship.

My central main thesis is that the constitutional provision guaranteeing the right of the people and the citizens to the freedom of expression is beyond religion!
Point two:

Last Sunday, the City Harvest Church issued a statement dismissing the allegations, even before the case has gone to trial.

Questions:

Why those leaders have the guts to demand their members not to talk or to ‘gossip’ on the case, yet they do not have the balls to question the purpose and the intent of Kong and company in issuing his ‘strongly worded statement’?

Is Kong not subject to the gag order of his fellow in not talking and ‘gossiping’ on the/his case?

Does Kong and company have the right to express themselves, yet their members have no right to even talk and/or ‘gossip’ about the case?

What kind of justice is this?

Assuming arguendo, that the statement issued by Kong maintaining his innocence even before the case has gone to trial, then the relevant and pertinent issue here is that:

If Kong have the right to issue a statement, then it logically follows based on the principles of natural justice that any person (whether a member of his church or not) do have the same right and privilege to talk, to discuss and to inquire about the case.

As a philosopher, a humanist and an academic, I condemn to the highest possible extent that diktat and/or order by the various Christian groups of calling on their members in not talking and/or inquiring about the case.

This case is impressed with public interest by virtue of the very fact that a substantial portion of the members of the said church are part and parcel of the public. Lastly, there is no way, wherein the people and the public may stop or cease from discussing the merits and/or the facts of the said case by virtue of the fact that the facts of this controversial and shocking case, it is now part of the whole public discourse!

Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

July 4, 2012
Subang Jaya, Darul Ehsan,
Selangor, Malaysia

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