Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Parliament passed changes to Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act on 7 Oct 2019

Changes proposed to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to allow swifter action, guard against foreign influence
Proposed changes would enable threats to be dealt with quicker, curb foreign influence
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Sep 2019

Proposed changes to an almost 30-year-old law that would allow the Government to act swiftly against threats to religious harmony and curb foreign influence on religious organisations were introduced in Parliament yesterday.

The changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) would allow restraining orders issued under the Act to take effect immediately. Currently, the Government has to serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

To counter foreign influence, the Bill also proposes that religious organisations ensure key leadership roles are filled by Singaporeans or permanent residents. Such groups must also disclose one-time donations of $10,000 or more from foreigners, and declare any affiliation to foreign individuals or groups in a position to influence them.

The Bill also introduces a Community Remedial Initiative, which will give people who have wounded the feelings of those of another faith the chance to understand the affected community.

The MRHA has never been invoked since 1992, when it first went into effect. But the situation since then has changed significantly, especially with the advent of social media, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

"The MRHA performs an important function of clearly stating the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in order to maintain religious harmony in Singapore," a spokesman said. "This function continues to be important, even if we have not had the need to issue a Restraining Order under the MRHA all these years."

Noting that the scope of restraining orders will be expanded to require offensive online posts to be taken down, the spokesman added: "There is a need to allow the Government to take swift action against inflammatory online publications as they can also affect religious harmony, no different from offline speeches."

If the Bill is passed, restraining orders can also be issued against religious organisations in which foreigners are found to be threatening racial harmony in Singapore.

Such organisations could then be prohibited from receiving donations from foreign donors. The Government could also require the group's governing body to comprise only Singaporeans, and call for it to suspend or remove foreigners from office.

The current process for confirming restraining orders, where the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony makes a recommendation to the President to confirm, vary or cancel the order, will remain unchanged, said MHA.

On introducing safeguards against foreign influence, MHA said Singapore is vulnerable to foreign actors exploiting religious fault lines or imposing values that could undermine religious harmony.

Under the proposed changes, the president, secretary and treasurer - or equivalent roles - of all religious organisations must be Singaporeans or PRs. In addition, the majority of the group's governing body must be Singaporean. These requirements will not apply to foreigners who are religious leaders but hold no formal position in the group's governing body.

There are around 2,500 religious organisations in Singapore.

Around 100 may have difficulties meeting the proposed leadership requirements, MHA said. It added that it may grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Religious groups said they supported changes to the law and understood the need for them.

The Community Remedial Initiative will not be made compulsory, MHA said. It will determine what action to take on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of offence and context. This could range from requiring a person to make a public or private apology, to having the person participate in activities to better understand the offended group.

The proposed legislation will also consolidate offences under the Penal Code that pertain to religion under the MRHA.

Changes proposed to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act: 5 things to know about the law
By Linette Lai and Malavika Menon, The Straits Times, 3 Sep 2019

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was enacted in 1990 to safeguard the separation of religion and politics. It went into force in 1992. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) proposed changes to the law in Parliament yesterday.


The MRHA currently provides powers for the Government to issue restraining orders against those who cause enmity, hatred, ill will or hostility between religious groups.

It also targets those who use the guise of religion to promote a political cause, carry out subversive activities or cause discontent against the Government or president.

The president confirms the restraining order after receiving recommendations from the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.

The restraining order can prevent a person from addressing religious groups on subjects specified by the Government.

It can also prevent the person from printing, editing, distributing or holding office on the editorial board of publications produced by religious groups.


MHA is proposing that key positions in religious organisations be held by only Singaporeans or permanent residents, with "exemptions granted on a case-by-case basis". These organisations will also have to disclose any donation of $10,000 or more if the donors are not Singaporeans or permanent residents.

The ministry said the rules on donations will not apply to certain types of funds, such as those collected in donation boxes or zakat and fitrah.

It will also exempt anonymous donations and donations from foreigners who are working and living in Singapore, such as Work Pass and Long-Term Visit Pass holders.

Local religious organisations will also have to declare affiliations to foreigners or foreign organisations that are in a position to exert control over them.

However, the changes will not grant the Government additional powers to ask the religious organisations to dissociate from their foreign affiliations.


A new Community Remedial Initiative is being proposed so that those found hurting religious sentiments can undertake activities and mend ties with the community.

The ministry said that action taken will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the type of offence and the context. It noted that criminal prosecution will not be taken against someone who has completed the initiative, for that offending act.


To take swifter action to prevent the spread of offensive statements against religious groups on the Internet and social media, MHA is proposing that restraining orders take immediate effect once issued.

Currently, the Government has to give a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

The ministry is also proposing provisions for such orders to be issued against a local religious organisation - under which it can prohibit donations or place restrictions on foreign leadership - if foreigners are found to be upsetting religious harmony through their influence on the group.


MHAis proposing to consolidate Penal Code offences related to religion under the MRHA, to "strengthen and better focus" efforts to maintain religious harmony.

The offences cover acts that incite violence on the basis of religion or against a religious group, and acts that incite feelings of ill will against a religious group, or wound the religious feelings of another person.

Changes to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act much needed, say religious groups
They cite impact of social media, need to keep out external forces with divisive intentions
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Sep 2019

Local religious groups say proposed changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) are a much-needed update, especially since hate speech can spread like wildfire on social media.

These changes to the nearly 30-year-old law also mean that external forces with divisive intentions will not be able to take root here, they added.

The new Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday would - if passed - allow the Government to act swiftly against threats to religious harmony and curb foreign influences in local religious organisations.

It would require religious groups to ensure their key leaders are Singaporeans or permanent residents, and declare single donations of $10,000 or more if they come from foreigners, among other things.

It would also mean that restraining orders issued under the MRHA take effect immediately. The Government now has to serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

Venerable Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said foreigners could use the Internet as a tool to recruit Singaporeans to their religious causes.

Those involved in religious conflicts overseas will try to find their sympathisers here, he noted.

"Therefore, updating the MRHA and intensified public education programmes are important measures to ensure long-lasting peace and harmony here."

In a joint statement, the Hindu Endowments Board and Hindu Advisory Board said religious harmony is something that Singaporeans work hard to sustain.

"Maintaining religious harmony requires constant attention and focus to ensure internal or external forces, with divisive intentions and an agenda to create disharmony, do not take root here."

A National Council of Churches of Singapore spokesman said the proposed changes "hold religious leaders to a higher standard of conduct and greater accountability".

"These measures will also encourage religious communities and their leaders to practise good governance and to be more alert to the influence of foreign sources that have the potential to sow seeds of distrust and conflict," he said.

The Bill also introduces the Community Remedial Initiative, which gives a person the opportunity to better understand the feelings of a religious group he has offended. He could be asked to make a public or private apology, or participate in activities with that group.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said mosques here have initiatives to strengthen ties with other faith communities and improve interfaith understanding, and that it also organises such programmes.

Islamic religious teachers also abide by an ethics code so that they can give the community advice suited to Singapore's context, a Muis spokesman added.

"We hope that the ground-up efforts by religious communities in Singapore, together with a clear set of laws to protect religious harmony, will strengthen mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence in our religiously diverse society," the spokesman said.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it had also discussed the issue with other religious groups, including the Catholics, Taoists and Sikhs, since early this year.

"All of them agree on the need to update the MRHA and support the amendments. They have also provided constructive feedback, much of which MHA has incorporated into the Bill," it said.

* Parliament updates religious harmony law; stiffer penalties to deal with religious hate crimes
Changes allow for higher penalties, swifter action to be taken over offensive statements
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

Parliament has passed changes to the law on religious harmony to allow the authorities to move more swiftly against those who threaten the good relations among people of different religions here.

Key changes include higher maximum punishments and immediate restraining orders to prevent offensive statements from spreading on social media, instead of the current 14-day notice period. The Act also covers offences committed overseas.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said that while the level of religious harmony in Singapore remains high, updates to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) are timely amid rising religiosity and increasing violence fuelled by hate speech globally.

Moving the changes to the Act yesterday, he noted that since the Act was passed in 1990, the Internet and social media have been used to mobilise hatred and mob attacks. There has also been increased foreign interference in the affairs of other countries, he said.

Mr Shanmugam cited, among others, far-right movements in Europe and Buddhist monks in Myanmar and Sri Lanka that play up anxieties against Muslims and other minorities, and how India's politicians have moved away from secularism. In Malaysia, a "Buy Muslim First" campaign has gained momentum and could stoke us-versus-them sentiments if it grows.

Singapore has been mostly spared such troubles, said the minister. But it could easily be affected by developments in other countries, he added. Citing a 2014 Pew Research Centre study showing that Singapore is the most religiously diverse society in the world, Mr Shanmugam said this could make the country especially susceptible to deepening fault lines.

It is therefore necessary to put in "circuit breakers" to prevent this - both through laws as well as tools focusing on restoration and rehabilitation, he said.

Other changes to the Act include safeguards against foreign influence like disclosure requirements for single foreign donations of $10,000 or more. The president, secretary and treasurer of a religious organisation must also be Singaporeans or permanent residents, and the majority of its executive committee or governing body, Singapore citizens.

The changes, which have considerable support from the different religious communities, come after extensive consultation with them, he said.

Another change is the introduction of a Community Remedial Initiative, which Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling said allows an offender to mend ties with the aggrieved community through an apology or by taking part in activities that promote harmony.

The changes were debated for over five hours, with 25 MPs speaking on the need to maintain harmony but also seeking clarity on foreign links, and the complex interplay between religion and politics, such as when religious leaders speak up on social concerns.

Rounding up the debate, Mr Shanmugam said the law does not have powers to ask local religious groups to dissociate themselves from foreign affiliates, and this would be too intrusive and excessive. "We have no home-grown religion of our own, and we are an open society. The approach is to ensure that our local religious organisations are sensitised to a multi-religious context."

The Government also does not wish to constrain debate on social issues, even when done on religious grounds, he said. "But if a religious group says you can only work for people who are of the same religion as you, that is not acceptable and it crosses the line."

Mr Shanmugam said that while the law sets out broad parameters of behaviour, it cannot be the sole driving force to change behaviour.

That the Act has never been used shows how successful it has been in shaping societal norms and values.

He observed that since the Act was passed in 1990, there have been disputes among all major religions across the world.

"Through this, Singapore stands proud as a beacon of religious tolerance and social harmony. We need to ask ourselves why."

Parliament: MPs highlight need to protect society's secular spaces
Religious leaders should not exert undue influence on public policy at expense of others
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

Several MPs yesterday called for Singapore to shore up its secular public space and ensure religious leaders do not exert undue influence on public policy.

They were speaking during the debate on proposed changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), which was passed in Parliament after 23 MPs had given their views.

One of them was Professor Yaacob Ibrahim (Jalan Besar GRC), who pointed out that the original 1989 White Paper on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony noted that it was "neither possible nor desirable" for people to separate their secular and religious selves.

"That is why it is absurd to ask me to decide whether I am first a Muslim or a Singaporean," said the former minister-in-charge of Muslim affairs.

"So, if we agree that it is not possible to compartmentalise ourselves, then we must be alert to the breaching of the barriers of secularism in our public life."

He added: "That is, we must continue to strengthen our common spaces and ensure that religious actors cannot impose their will on public policy to the detriment of other religious groups or the public good."

His call to keep the public space secular was echoed by Nominated MP Walter Theseira, who gave the example of how family structures have changed significantly since the major religions were founded.

"Women can, and do, live independent of men today.

"A divorcee or widow is no longer condemned to penury or forced into a second marriage by society," Dr Theseira said. "Single parents and blended step-families exist. There are Singaporeans of different sexual orientations."

He acknowledged that religious leaders have the right to prescribe principles of life for their followers, but pointed out that doing so in a destructive manner could have negative consequences for society.

In other countries, he said, religious leaders routinely demand changes in family policy so that religious principles are enforced "with the full weight of the state".

"This right, if applied indiscriminately in Singapore, would lead to the shrinking of the common space in Singapore," he added.

During the debate, other MPs called for greater clarity on who the Act will apply to and how it will be implemented.

For example, the Act holds religious leaders to a higher standard as they wield greater influence.

But it does not clearly define what a religious leader is, said Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

While some religions may require leaders to undertake formal vows, others may not have such a requirement, he pointed out.

"Would that include part-time staff, those invited to recount their experience and give testimonies to a religious group, counsellors who help families overcome financial, family or marriage difficulties or the loss of loved ones, those who do or organise charitable work like providing rations for families in the neighbourhood?" he asked.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also asked how the Government determines what behaviour is considered offensive enough to breach the law.

The end goal, she added, should be to determine why certain acts are deemed offensive and how to prevent them from recurring.

"After all, many offences happen as a result of a lack of empathy and ignorance, rather than pure malice," Ms Lee said.

"In previous cases, some people who insulted other races and religions were doxxed and had their livelihoods affected, with some even losing their jobs.

"If we can rehabilitate criminals, can we do the same for cases under MRHA?"

Prof Yaacob said that changes to the Act will not cover what is said privately and to small groups, and urged Singaporeans "to aim for a higher bar".

"The best restraint must come from all of us," he said.

"What we believe is the right thing to say in public must also be the right thing to say privately."

Parliament: Mosque fund helps Muslims here avoid foreign influence, says Maliki Osman
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

Local mosques are built and upgraded using funds from Muslims here, and this ensures that the community cannot be easily influenced by foreigners, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said yesterday.

Speaking about the unique way in which Islam is practised in Singapore, he said the Muslim community charts its own path while respecting the country's multi-religious context, even as it adheres to the underpinnings of Islam.

"The community recognises the importance of practising one's religion in a way that is respectful towards those who may profess a different belief," he said in Parliament during the debate on amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA).

It is in this spirit that the community and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) support the MRHA changes that will allow the Government to act swiftly against threats to religious harmony and curb foreign influence on religious organisations, he added.

In fact, Dr Maliki said, the practices of mosques and religious institutions under Muis are already aligned to the amendments, like the Mosque Building Fund, set up in 1975. The money comes from monthly contributions of each working Muslim in Singapore, and is used to build and upgrade mosques here.

This allows the Muslim community to be self-reliant, said Dr Maliki, adding: "We are able to address our own needs without becoming susceptible to manipulation by foreign parties for their own agendas and risking the peace and harmony we have enjoyed as a society."

He also stressed the importance of guarding the common space for people of all races and religions, in a response to Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC), who said religious tolerance can be achieved without followers having to sacrifice their values and faith.

Mr Faisal cited the experience of his father's friend, whose daughter was allowed to wear a headscarf and loose-fitting clothing while attending a public school in Melbourne. "They do not practise tolerance by asking followers of a religion to compromise their faith or to be less Islamic for the sake of integration," he said.

Dr Maliki responded that schools in Singapore are critical common spaces where a shared identity and experience can be nurtured regardless of religion. "Here in Singapore, we must determine what works best for our unique multi-religious context," he said.

He also said that while religion is a deeply personal matter, the Muslim community recognises the role laws play in allowing the different communities to co-exist in harmony. "The law sets the tone for the norms that we treasure and uphold as a society, and in the case of the MRHA, the laws are the ultimate safeguard for religious harmony," he added.

Parliament: Laws for social harmony needed, but personal efforts vital too, says Grace Fu
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

In Yuhua, three families epitomise what it means for people of different faiths to coexist in harmony.

Their story was recounted yesterday by their MP - Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu - as she underscored the important role each Singaporean plays in protecting social harmony.

She was speaking in Parliament about changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, when she cited the story a Chinese resident who is Christian told her.

The woman said her Muslim neighbour would help watch her young child when she had to bring her other child home from school, while her Hindu neighbour would share food with her family from time to time. The children from all three families also play together in each other's homes.

"The resident brought this to my attention because she truly appreciated the kindness and generosity of her neighbours. But, above all, she knows that this relationship transcending race and religion is not to be taken for granted," said Ms Fu. "Such trusting and warm relationships between neighbours of different faiths can be found all around Singapore. It is the beauty of Singapore and Singaporeans."

The minister was making the point that while updates to the law are needed to protect social harmony, legislation alone is not sufficient to maintain this state of affairs. "At a more fundamental level, we cannot legislate to remove irrational fears and stereotypes, nor to accept that a set of different beliefs can coexist with ours," she said.

While Singapore has a strong foundation of social cohesion, which allows people to discuss sensitive issues of race and religion seriously, candidly but respectfully, this state of affairs cannot be taken for granted, she added. She urged people to continue to work towards maintaining good relations among the different communities.

"It is through individual actions and efforts in our everyday lives to engage one other. We offer help to one another, do business together and attend one another's life events such as weddings and funerals," she added.

She cited how there have been more ground-up efforts to promote racial and religious harmony, like the Ask Me Anything series of conversations by the WhiteHatters, which gave people the chance to engage leaders of various religions.

The Government will continue to work with Singaporeans at all levels to safeguard racial and religious harmony, she pledged.

While Singapore's founding fathers had made a deliberate choice to build a society in which "everyone has the freedom to choose and practice his or her religion, provided the same freedom is afforded to others", this tolerance and accommodation have matured over time and multiculturalism has become an integral part of the Singapore identity, she said. "This social compact will allow us to broaden our common space, even as our society becomes more diverse," she added.

Parliament: Workers' Party flags concerns in separation of religion from politics
If not managed properly, religious leaders may divide society along political lines: MPs
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

The question of what it means to separate religion from politics was a central point in speeches made by Workers' Party MPs yesterday, during the debate on changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

If not managed properly, the result could be a polarisation of society along political lines - brought about not by foreign actors but by Singapore's own religious leaders, said Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

She noted that in the run-up to the debate on the Bill, religious leaders openly expressed their support for the proposed changes.

"Religious authority is being thrown behind the Government's legislation, both publicly and also to specific congregations.

"Is that mixing religious authority with politics?" she asked.

"If the religious leaders had instead gone the other way, that is to express concern or opposition to the Bill, would the Government have put its foot down and issued an order requiring them to stop?"

She also asked if it would be appropriate for a religious leader to encourage congregants to "vote for stability" during a general election, or be seen in a political party's uniform on Nomination Day.

This point was also brought up by Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh, who noted that a religious leader was seen with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the last general election.

This person was a senior party member, a highly visible leader of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), and had links to the People's Association, he said. Mr Singh did not name the individual, but he is believed to be Mr Tan Thiam Lye, a vice-president on the IRO council and from the Taoist Federation.

"While it is unclear if the individual concerned was the Prime Minister's election agent, it is nonetheless useful for the House to pause and consider the optics of a respected member of a religious group appearing to canvass support for a politician," he said.

"How would some members of the same religious group with a different political view from that espoused by their religious leader or elder feel if they openly support another political party? Could it create or ferment tension within that religious group?" he asked.

He added that selecting well-known religious or community figures in capacities like election agents - even though this is a secular appointment - "muddies the already difficult distinction between religion and politics".

Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) raised the question of what "moderation and tolerance" mean in the context of religion, asking if they mean compromising on religious values.

"Do the followers of a particular religion have to do something prohibited or that contravenes the values and teachings of the religion so that he can be considered someone who practises moderation and tolerance?" he asked. "Personally, I believe that tolerance as a pillar of religious harmony in a plural society like Singapore is achievable without having to sacrifice the values and faith of any follower."

Parliament: Friendships between religious, govt leaders vital, says K. Shanmugam
Building such ties allows issues to be dealt with in atmosphere of trust, says minister
By Linette Lai,Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

It is important for government leaders and religious leaders to have "good, deep friendships" with one another, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said.

He was responding to concerns raised in Parliament by Workers' Party MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh yesterday over how religious leaders are often seen with politicians, giving the impression that religion is mixing with politics.

Singapore's approach is to deal with this "with wisdom and common sense", Mr Shanmugam said.

"We don't live apart from religion, we don't live apart from religious leaders," he added.

"For government leaders to cut off, to not have contact with religious leaders, will not be wise. Good, deep friendships between government leaders and religious leaders are extremely important."

Building such ties is important because it allows issues to be dealt with in an atmosphere of trust, he added.

"The key is to do it with wisdom, clarity of position and mutual understanding. And in Singapore, we do it publicly, openly and we celebrate the relationship."

He added the Government must give all religions the confidence that it will be "fair and neutral, and be the conscientious referee".

"You see the racial harmony in Singapore. It is not only because of the laws, but also because of how government leaders have behaved."

On religious leaders being seen with political figures during elections, Mr Shanmugam noted that lay religious leaders have civil and political rights as well.

"The law does not preclude them from exercising their civil and political rights. They can be members of political parties. We have had ministers, MPs who are lay preachers."

He added that these issues must be looked at "without a party lens", stressing again that they must be handled with sensibility, care and wisdom.

During the debate, Ms Lim asked what the Government would have done had religious leaders not supported amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

She also questioned if it was appropriate for religious leaders to ask congregants to "vote for stability" during an election.

Responding to her first question, Mr Shanmugam noted that religious groups have opposed government policy before.

For example, the National Council of Churches of Singapore registered its objections to building a casino in Singapore, and Muslim religious teachers' group Pergas was against online gambling.

"I don't think we can completely deny them the right to express some views on some pieces of legislation," he said. "At the same time, both parties must understand the language must be one of mutual respect. Don't cross over into being partisan and political."

Addressing her second concern, Mr Shanmugam replied: "I think for the good of Singapore, we don't want religious leaders to get into the arena and become partisan.

"But I can't see that any lines have been crossed so far.

"A lot of care has to be exercised by the religious leaders if they choose to make statements. And that is in the interest of everyone."

Parliament: K. Shanmugam, WP's Faisal face off over separation of religion from politics
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019

Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap was put in the hot seat yesterday after he said that he did not quite agree with keeping religion and politics separate. Speaking in Malay on changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, he said: "Islam encompasses all aspects of life, including politics and the way to practise politics."

As such, while he agreed religion should not be used to gain political advantage, he did not fully agree with the principle of the separation of religion from politics.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam expressed surprise and concern that Mr Faisal held that view, and asked him to clarify what he meant.

In a protracted exchange, Mr Faisal said his comment was taken out of context. People "shouldn't use religion for the benefit of politics", but it was inevitable that in the formulation of policies, there would be an "intertwine between politics and religion", he said.

Asked by Mr Shanmugam if he would state whether he believed that religion should be kept separate from politics, the MP answered: "To cut it short, can you please refer to the Hansard, the speech that I have delivered?"

After 15 minutes, he finally said: "I do agree that religion needs to be kept apart from politics, so that religion won't be used to gain personal benefit or the benefit of... any political party."

This led WP chief Pritam Singh to jump in. "In Singapore, as a minority MP for any party, you represent not just members of your community, you represent members of other faiths. And I think the only way to move forward is to accept that there has to be a certain degree of understanding towards other faiths and move forward in a way which accepts that we must be mindful of introducing religion into politics," he said, acknowledging that he was speaking for himself.

"I think ultimately for a Member of Parliament of any political party in Singapore, I think it is important that you remember that you have to represent the interests of every community, not just yours."

The exchange between Mr Shanmugam and Mr Faisal also drew a response from Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad, who said he was "very troubled" by it.

He said he felt it was important to state that while it was fine for a Muslim to hold the personal view that religion encompasses his or her lifestyle, "as a secular nation, we cannot impose our religious values on the common spaces of everybody".

He called on the Government to work with religious bodies to drive across the point that Singapore's secular spaces must be safely guarded.

Responding, Mr Shanmugam said most people would readily admit that their personal views can be influenced by religion, including many MPs and Cabinet ministers who are deeply religious.

"We don't hide that," he added.

"When you make your decisions, you cannot put aside your religious self, but you must take into account everybody else and you act neutrally, and you take the position for the benefit of all Singaporeans, even if you believe that that may not be consistent with your religious beliefs."

The minister said this position is accepted by religious leaders of all faiths, including Muslim leaders, clerics and the Mufti.

"They accept it, and they say that is the only way in which we can proceed with governing Singapore and living in Singapore, not just for us as a government, but for them as religious leaders," he added. "So, Mr Faisal has introduced a new element in that process today. I think that is something for him and others around him to think about."

Key amendments to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2019


Religious groups will be required to disclose single foreign donations of $10,000 or more, and their president, secretary and treasurer must be Singapore citizens or permanent residents. The majority of their executive committee or governing body must be Singapore citizens, and they must declare any foreign affiliations.


Restraining orders issued under the Act will take effect immediately to prevent offensive statements from spreading on social media. This includes ceasing all communication of the offensive material and removing it from the Internet.

Currently, the Government has to serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.


The Act will be extra-territorial, covering offences committed overseas so long as they target, and have an impact on, Singapore.

Urging violence against another person or group is also considered a more serious offence than insulting or ridiculing a religion. Mr K. Shanmugam noted that action can be taken if any religious group or its member attacks another party, including LGBTQ groups or individuals, on religious grounds.

Religious leaders are subject to a lower threshold for offences, as they have greater ability to influence and mobilise followers.


Section 74 of the Penal Code, which describes enhanced penalties for racially or religiously aggravated offences, will also be strengthened.

Maximum punishments will be increased from 11/2 times to two, if the offender targets a victim because of his race or religion. They will cover all offences in the Penal Code, not just specific ones.


The Minister for Home Affairs may offer an offender the opportunity to mend ties, such as by a public or private apology to the aggrieved parties, or taking part in inter-religious events. While this Community Remedial Initiative is not mandatory, if it is completed, criminal prosecution will not be taken against the offender. But this is not an option, for instance, in serious cases of inciting violence.

First Reading of Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill -2 Sep 2019

Second Reading Speech for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law -7 Oct 2019

Second Reading Speech for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill - Speech by Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development -7 Oct 2019

Second Reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Amendment Bill 2019 - Wrap-up Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law -8 Oct 2019

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Institute of Policy Studies report on Religion in Singapore 2019

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