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By Lucy Kapi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (August 17, 2000 - The National/PINA Nius Online)---Freedom of religion is a basic human right and this applies to the new Muslim mosque being built at Hohola in the National Capital District, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands has said.

Responding to moves to legislate against non-Christian religions, the Catholic Bishops Conference said in a statement: "The statements against the mosque are indications of religious intolerance, which should have no place in our society."

The Catholic Bishops represent one of the biggest and oldest Christian denominations in the two countries.

But at the same time, Home Affairs Minister Andrew Kumbakor told a Catholic women's gathering that although the Constitution gave the right of freedom of religion "there is a need to correct it to define that freedom of religion and to what extreme that freedom should be protected."

Catholic Bishops Conference General Secretary Lawrence Stephens said, however, that Christians should not fear the appearance of a new place of worship. "Christians should not attack the beliefs of others.

"The Christian community should welcome the building of a mosque in our midst and be proud that Papua New Guinea is serious about freedom of religion," Mr. Stephens said.

"It is natural that when Muslims visit Port Moresby they should wish to find a place of worship. Mosques are exactly that, places of worship. Papua New Guineans who travel abroad know that they can find Christian places of worship in non-Christian countries. We should not therefore deny others that right."

Addressing a National Catholic Women's Day gathering at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Port Moresby yesterday, Mr. Kumbakor, who hinted on Monday that the government planned to amend the law to control the emergence of non-Christian religions, said that religions which come to PNG must follow the country's laws. The current law on freedom is too open, he added.

"We need a law to control this and to protect the interest of the mainstream churches," he said, adding that many people were breaking away from the mainstream churches to form smaller churches.

The PNG Council of Churches, which represents most Christian churches in the country, met last Thursday and acknowledged the right to exist of non-Christian groups as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Council, however, was also concerned over issues that these non-Christian groups may create, which could result in damage or social disharmony in the community and society at large.

It urged Christian churches to continue to propagate the teachings of the Gospel and "encourage Christians not to be fearful of these non-Christian groups but to continue to bring everybody into the family of God."

Vicar General of the Port Moresby diocese of the Anglican Church, Father Walter Ataembo, said the church, as a member of the PNG Council of Churches, acknowledges the right to exist of non-Christian groups in PNG.

But Father Walter said he personally supported Mr. Kumbakor's proposal to apply some measures to control the influx of non-Christian religions.

The coordinator of the Evangelical Alliance Churches (EAC), Pate Wayne, also supported the minister's proposal.

Mrs. Wayne said that freedom of religion must be explained clearly because many illiterate people could follow religions that provided material things for them.

"Our women are praying against non-Christians coming into the country. We do not want other religions coming to manipulate our people," she said.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church said that freedom of religion must also extend to non-Christian faiths.

"Although we do not believe in the teachings or worship practices of non-Christians, we believe that they must enjoy the same rights as any other religion in PNG," said the SDA president, Pastor Wilson Stephen.

Pastor Stephen said non-Christians must be allowed to build places of worship and practice their religion like any other citizens.

The church cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) which says that every person has the right to freedom of thought, religion and belief, the right to practice religion or belief in private or in community with others, and to share their beliefs with others.

"To discriminate against any faith or belief is to treat citizens unequally before the law and will eventually lead to religious persecution," he said.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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