Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
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The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act was passed by Parliament in November 1990 with the aim of maintaining religious harmony and ensuring that religion is not exploited for any political or subversive purpose in Singapore. The Act also provides for the establishment of a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.
On 26 December 1989, the White Paper on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony was presented to Parliament. The White Paper sets out proposals for legislation to maintain religious harmony and to establish a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.
On 15 January 1990, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill was tabled in Parliament and committed to a Select Committee of Parliament on 23 February 1990. Advertisements inviting written representations on the Bill from the public were published in the press on 26 February and 25 July 1990. Pursuant to these advertisements, a total of 79 written representations were received and presented to the Select Committee for deliberation.
The Select Committee presented its recommended amendments to the Bill to Parliament on 29 October 1990. The Bill was passed on 9 November 1990 and the Act came into effect on 31 March 1992.
In February 2007, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng informed Parliament that no restraining orders had been issued since the Act came into effect.
Rationale for the Act
According to the White Paper, Singapore has not been immune to the rise in religious fervour worldwide. Religious groups in Singapore have become more assertive and are competing more intensely for followers than before. This has increased the possibility of inter-religious friction and misunderstanding in a multi-racial and multi-religious society like Singapore.
The White Paper identified two vital conditions necessary for religious harmony in Singapore. Firstly, religious followers must exercise moderation and tolerance and avoid doing anything that will cause enmity or misunderstanding among other religious groups. Secondly, religion and politics must be kept separate, because if one religious group becomes involved in politics, other religious groups will follow suit to protect their own interests, political parties may then advocate policies that favour one group or another to garner support from the followers, all of which will lead to inter-religious tensions and rivalry, and the end result will be conflict and political instability in Singapore.
Legislation will empower the Government to effectively maintain these two vital conditions necessary for religious harmony. Moreover, it is better to implement this legislation while relations between the different religious groups are still good, rather than later when matters have deteriorated and religious groups have become suspicious of each other.
Under the provisions of the Act, the Minister for Home Affairs may issue a restraining order against any leader, official or member of any religious group or institution who causes or attempts to cause ill feelings between the different religious groups, or who commits or attempts to commit any of the following activities while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising a religious belief: promote a political cause, carry out subversive activities or excite disaffection against the President or the Government of Singapore. Under the restraining order, he may be restrained from addressing any religious group or publishing any publication or holding office in the editorial board of any religious group for up to two years.
A restraining order may also be issued against a person who incites any religious group to commit any of the aforementioned acts. It may also be issued against someone who is not a member of any religious group but who commits the aforementioned acts.
Notice of intention to make the restraining order and allegations of facts in support thereof will be served to the individual who will have the right to make written representation to the Minister within two weeks of the notice. All orders will be referred to the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony for consideration and finally to the President for confirmation.
A person who violates the restraining order shall be liable on conviction to a fine of up to $10,000 or face a prison sentence of up to two years or to both.
Presidential Council for Religious Harmony
The Act also provides for the establishment of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony. Its role is to consider and report to the Minister of Home Affairs on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore. It will also consider and make recommendations on the restraining orders referred to it by the Minister.
The Council is comprised of a chairman and between six and 15 other members. The members comprise of representatives of the major religions in Singapore and prominent Singaporeans who have distinguished themselves in public service. The members of the Council, other than the chairman, will be appointed for a period of one to three years while the chairman will be appointed for a period of three years. The chairman and all of the members are eligible for reappointment.
26 Dec 1989 : The White Paper on The Maintenance of Religious Harmony was presented to Parliament.
15 Jan 1990 : The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill was tabled in Parliament.
Feb – Apr 1990 : The Bill was committed to a Select Committee of Parliament and 71 written representations were received following an advertisement inviting written representations on the Bill was published in the press. The Bill lapsed when Parliament prorogued on 21 April 1990.
Jun 1990 : The Bill was re-introduced after Parliament resumed.
Jul – Aug 1990 : Another advertisement inviting written representations on the Bill was published in the press and an additional eight written representations were received.
29 Oct 1990 : The Select Committee presented its recommendations to Parliament.
9 Nov 1990 : The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill was passed by Parliament.
31 Mar 1992 : The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act came into effect.
1 Aug 1992 : The first Presidential Council of Religious Harmony was appointed.
Amendments to religion bill. (1990, November 10). The Business Times Singapore. Retrieved November 18, 2009, from Factiva database.
Attorney-General’s Chambers. (2001). Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (Chapter 167A). Retrieved November 20, 2009, from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_retrieve.pl?&actno=Reved-167A&date=latest&method=part
First religious harmony body appointed. (1992, August 2). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Hussain, Z. (2009, July 24). Religious Harmony: 20 years of keeping the peace. The Straits Times. Retrieved November 18, 2009, from Factiva database.
Maintenance of Religious Harmony. (1989). Singapore : Printed for the Government of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers.
(Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
Public can still offer views to select committee. (1990, July 19). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Religious Harmony Act to take effect from Tuesday. (1992, March 28). The Straits Times. Retrieved on February 8, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill [Bill no. 14/90] (pp. i-xviii, 1-11). (1990). Singapore : Printed for the Government of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers.
(Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. (1992). Singapore : Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts.
(Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
The information in this article is valid as at 2010 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.