Bishop 'reserves right' to take legal action because of clash with Basic Law over religious independence The Catholic Church is threatening to sue the government over the controversial school management reform bill, claiming it contravenes the Basic Law. Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said yesterday he 'reserved the right' to take legal action over the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 because it infringed the rights of religious organisations to manage their own affairs. 'The government ought to have a look at Basic Law Article 141. We reserve the right to file a case,' Bishop Zen said. He added he would be holding a public seminar on the bill at a date to be confirmed. Legislator Cheung Man-kwong warned the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) during a bills committee meeting this week that Bishop Zen was considering the action. 'By requiring all subsidised schools to set up Incorporated Management Committees (IMCs), the government is interfering with religious organisations' education affairs, the bishop has said,' Mr Cheung reported and asked the EMB to clarify the legality of the bill. 'Supervisors appointed by the church have been responsible for liaising with the EMB over school policies. Their role, however, will be replaced by the IMCs after the bill is passed.' According to Article 141 of the Basic Law, the government 'shall not restrict the freedom of religious belief, interfere in the internal affairs of religious organisations or restrict religious activities which do not contravene the laws of the region. Religious organisations may, according to their previous practice, continue to run seminaries and other schools, hospitals and welfare institutions and to provide other social services'. Mr Cheung told the South China Morning Post that churches, as schools' sponsoring bodies, should have the right to teach students Christian or Catholic values. 'It is reasonable for those schools to focus on biblical teaching without cutting students off from other religions or philosophies,' he said. 'It is the responsibility of the sponsoring body to lay down the vision of the school. 'Students who have chosen religious schools should respect the schools' values, and those students who have been allocated to these schools by chance have the freedom to change schools.' But committee chairwoman Cyd Ho Sau-lan, said there could be a grey area in the Basic Law over the roles of churches and government in education. She quoted Article 136, that 'the government shall formulate education policies, including those regarding the educational system and its administration, and allocation of funds'. Community organisations and individuals may, on this basis, run educational undertakings of various kinds in the region, according to the law. 'It is a very tricky situation because churches are playing a very important role in school management and policies, while the government also has its grounds for formulating education policies,' Ms Ho said. 'If the church really succeeds in filing the case against the government, the bill may be on hold until it is sorted out.' Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower Cheng Man-yiu said the bureau would provide a written clarification next week. The committee will meet again next Wednesday to discuss several major amendments, including Mr Cheung's proposal that the law should be mandatory only after a review in three years; the right of the Permanent Secretary of Education and Manpower to terminate subsidies for schools that do not abide by the law, and the appointment of IMC members. Education minister Arthur Li Kwok-cheung is due to meet Mr Cheung about his amendment. But Professor Li said there could not be an indefinite delay in implementing the reform. 'Its purpose is to let alumni, teachers and parents be stakeholders and have ownership over schools. They will only have a small voice in the committee, so why is that a bad thing?'' he said.