Last updated Tuesday, September 23, 2014 12:01am

deputy chairman of the NUCC law and policy committee, Lim Chee Wee, speaks at a press conference on the NUCC bills on June 24. — Picture by Boo Su-Lyndeputy chairman of the NUCC law and policy committee, Lim Chee Wee, speaks at a press conference on the NUCC bills on June 24. — Picture by Boo Su-LynKUALA LUMPUR, July 8 — The National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) today hit back at criticism made by a coalition of Malay groups that its proposed anti-discrimination law recognises atheism and contravenes the Rukun Negara principle of belief in God.

NUCC’s law and policy committee member Mohd Zharif Badrul said the interpretation of religious beliefs in Section 4 of The Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill should be read with Section 5 and 6 which criminalises hate crime based on religion.

“For example, if A hurts B because B is an atheist, then A would have to be punished under the law.

“It can also be used as B (an atheist) who attacked A just because A is a Muslim,” he said in a statement.

In a column in Mingguan Malaysia on Sunday, MuslimUPRo chief Azril Mohd Amin noted that the NUCC’s National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill 2014 defined “religion” as “any religion and includes any belief or lack of a religious belief”, which he said would include atheists and the freedom to renounce a faith.

Today, Mohd Zharif added that the interpretation was not meant to encourage anyone to leave his or her religion, or go against the principal of believing in God.

“This bill is drafted based on the existence of various beliefs and religions in the country, so we should not deny their existence.

“Even the designation of this bill in line with the principles contained in the Quran namely ‘and do not ever allow your hatred towards a certain race to encourage you to do injustice. Be fair (to everyone) because the fairness is closer to piety ‘(surah al-Maaidah 5:8),” he said.

MuslimUPRo had also claimed that the NUCC’s proposed laws, which include an anti-hate crime bill, violated Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution that positioned Islam as the religion of the federation.

The MuslimUPRo head further alleged that the NUCC’s anti-discrimination bill was an attempt to redefine Article 153 of the Federal Constitution on the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

He noted that although the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill stated that nothing in it derogated from Article 153, the proposed law contradicted itself by prohibiting “racial superiority”, “exclusivity based on religion, race,” and the “exclusive control by persons of a particular religion, race”.

Mohd Zarif reiterated in the National Harmony Bill hate based on race and religion is a crime and is unrelated to Islam’s special position in the country.

He also said Section 7 also does not conflict with Article 153 as Article 153 and does not promote the “racial superiority” or “racial exclusivity” agenda.

“Article 153 is only intended to give a privileged position to the Bumiputera in various areas as defined in Article 153 (2).

“The provisions of Article 153 is only intended to help the less fortunate in the Bumiputera community in specific areas, far from promoting the idea of supremacy and exclusivity of a race.

“In fact, 153 is placed under the responsibility of the King. Thus, it is illogical to link YDPA’s duty with the racial superiority or exclusivity ideology,” he said.

He pointed out that the bill was drafted so it does not go against the Constitution. Feedback and improvements from all parties is needed because of the era of ‘government knows best’ is over, he added.

The National Harmony bill, if it becomes law, will be the first piece of legislation in Malaysia to have gone through an open consultation process, Mohd Zarif said.