Singapore—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged the deep divisions among the different religious groups in the nation, citing this as the reason for having passed the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in1990.
However, with the changing of the times due to social media and other factors, changes to this law will be tabled in Parliament by next week, PM Lee said.
The Prime Minister made these remarks at the Inter-Religious Organisation’s (IRO) 70th anniversary dinner on Monday night, August 26, noting that while the country has had its share of tensions within communities of different faiths, much progress has been made in establishing mutual trust and confidence in the years since the country achieved independence, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reports.
But this should not be tantamount to discussions on religion that are “unfettered and rambunctious,” or worse yet, content that could scandalize or provoke violence, he added.
PM Lee noted regional trends that point toward extremism and strife and division between belief systems, such as what is happening in Sri Lanka. Despite this country’s history of peaceful cooperation between Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists from centuries ago, Sri Lanka has experienced troubles and even violence stemming from both ethnic and religious divisions, including the Easter Sunday bombing in April of this year, where almost three hundred people were killed, many of whom while attending church.
The Prime Minister told the audience, “We have no illusions about the depths of the religious fault lines in our society and the harm that will befall us if we neglect to manage them.”
He added that this was the reason for passing the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 1990, so that ground rules for all religious groups could be established.
Since then, the Government has not needed to invoke its powers, but having the law in place has been helpful in establishing harmonious co-existence.
However, with the changing times, and especially with the ease with which social media makes it easy to share inflammatory content that people may take offence with, the landscape is different now.
Therefore, changes to the law are to be tabled in Parliament in the coming week, which lets authorities manage new threats “comprehensively and in a timely manner,” according to PM Lee.
The Government has been in consultation with religious leaders regarding this, he added.
The Prime Minister posted about the IRO’s 70th-anniversary celebration on his Facebook account on Tuesday, August 27.
“Celebrated the Inter-Religious Organisation’s 70th-anniversary last night with the many who care for and support Singapore’s multi-religious harmony. Established before Singapore became independent, the IRO has since grown with our nation.
The IRO’s efforts affirm our shared aspiration to make Singapore a warm and inclusive home, where we are united across race, language, and religion. Above all, they affirm our common humanity in our diversity.
I wish the IRO all the very best in promoting inter-religious peace and understanding. We must unceasingly build trust among communities. We all have a shared responsibility for Singapore’s precious social harmony. – LHL” —TISG
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