Singapore’s Bishops Announce Support for Tighter Government Controls on Religion

This photograph taken on February 14, 2017 shows Archbishop William Goh Seng Chye (L) walking to the altar during a mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd 120th anniversary in Singapore. Singapore's oldest Roman Catholic church was built by Father Jean-Marie Beurel in 1847 and underwent extensive …
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty

SINGAPORE — The Catholic Church in Singapore has announced its full support for a proposed amendment seeking to rein in foreign religious influences.

The Archdiocese of Singapore issued a statement this week throwing its support behind the government initiative to reform the 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), giving the state the means to exert stricter control over the religious activities of foreigners.

“The proposed changes are timely since the MRHA was promulgated in 1990 to maintain religious harmony in Singapore,” the statement reads. “With the omnipresence of the Internet and social networks, hate messages that can deepen and fracture religious harmony can spread faster and more broad than before.”

“Therefore, it is important that the MRHA be updated to ensure that we respond effectively to any new threat that may damage religious harmony,” the bishops said.

The bishops recalled that, although the country enjoys a climate of harmony, this situation cannot be taken for granted and it is necessary to establish mechanisms that limit the influence of “malicious foreign actors who can use religion to divide society.”

The rule provides for controls on forms of interference such as donations, the appointment of leaders, or affiliations to foreign entities. It also establishes the obligation to withdraw online publications that violate respect among religions and limit the participation of religions in politics.

A series of provisions have been introduced to “safeguard our religious organisations against foreign influences which might adversely affect our religious harmony.”

The “Community Remedial Initiative” was also introduced among the changes, aiming to help defuse tensions between religious groups by “offering the offender the opportunity to perform activities to mend ties,” Channel News Asia (CNA) reported. These could include “making a private or public apology or participating in inter-religious events.”

The bishops said that the government had taken into account the wishes of different Singaporean religious organizations in framing its amendments.

“We are pleased that the Government of Singapore has committed itself to the various religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, and has taken into account the views and comments, to propose additional measures to ensure that religious harmony is maintained. in Singapore,” the statement concluded.

Singapore has a well-earned reputation for tight regulations on what people can and cannot do, including such curiosities as a ban on gum chewing, fines for not flushing public toilets, a prohibition on spitting, and a strict “no eating or drinking” rule on the subway.

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