Malaysian state taken to court over church site

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Malaysia's Roman Catholics have asked a court to review the latest in a series of reversed decisions by a state government which have stalled efforts to build a church.

The Selangor state government has changed its mind three times in ten years over proposals for a church to be built in the state capital Shah Alam, a 45-minute drive from Kuala Lumpur.

Last year Selangor's new chief minister declared Shah Alam a Malay city. About 70 percent of the city's 400,000 people are Malay Muslims.

In December, Selangor asked the building committee of the Shah Alam Catholic Church to consider a new site in an industrial park two kilometres from the location it had already approved.

The proposed site lacks infrastructure, which would only be in place in three to four years, church building committee chairman J.V. Rao told Reuters, while the church has already spent more than 50,000 ringgit ($13,158) to prepare the current site.

Rao said the church requested a judicial challenge of the decision on behalf of the 3,000 to 5,000 catholics in the area "hoping that it will at least make (the government) respond."

Malaysia's official religion is Islam but non-Muslims -- mostly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus -- worship quite freely in this country of 22 million people.

But concern has been growing in recent years about erosion of the freedom of religion guaranteed in the constitution.

About 55 percent of the population are ethnic Malay, 30 percent Chinese and 10 percent Indian.

The Shah Alam High Court is scheduled to hear the church's request for a review on July 26.

(Marty Logan, +60 3 2275 6831 fax +60 3 232-6752,