SINGAPORE: Religious organisations are supportive of the proposed changes to Singapore's religious harmony law, with some saying they were glad their feedback was accepted in the amendments proposed.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling tabled the amendments to the nearly 30-year-old Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) in Parliament on Monday (Sep 2), with suggested updates to the law to better cope with the proliferation of the Internet and to curb foreign influence.
READ: Changes proposed to Singapore’s religious harmony law to address impact of social media, foreign influence
READ: Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act - What you need to know about the proposed changes
MHA said it has held discussions with religious organisations since the start of the year on these proposed changes.
This was something that the various faith communities expressed appreciation for, with the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) one of those that lauded the approach.
It said it was glad the amendments in the legislation incorporated feedback it gave. The board had told MHA that any requirements on foreign speakers should not be “unnecessarily onerous” on the host organisation, SAB representative Mr Malminderjit Singh told CNA in an email.
“From the Sikh community’s perspective, like many other minority religious groups here, this would not have been possible given the little resources we have especially since we rely almost solely on foreign religious speakers,” Mr Malminderjit explained.
"We are glad and appreciative that the MHA took note of our feedback as reflected by the final requirements on foreign speakers."
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore highlighted the dangers posed by the Internet and how the updated law could help address this.
"With the pervasiveness of the Internet and social media, hateful messages that can deepen and fracture religious harmony can spread faster and wider than before," according to the statement.
"It is therefore important that the MRHA is updated to ensure that we respond in an effective manner to any new threats that can harm religious harmony."
Other religious groups stressed the timeliness of the proposed changes, as well as the need to continually work on maintaining religious harmony in Singapore.
The Singapore Soka Association, a Buddhist organisation, said in a statement that the amendments “could not be timelier”.
It said that there is a need to make a concerted effort to maintain the country’s religious harmony, which it called a "delicate part of our social fabric", adding that with these proposed amendments, the Government is taking "proactive" measures to do just that.
Similarly, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said the amendments were timely and it fully supports the proposed amendments.
The proposed changes also hold religious leaders to a higher standard of conduct and greater accountability, it said. For example, the law will require religious organisations to declare donations of S$10,000 or more from foreigners if passed.
“These measures will 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,” NCCS said, adding the “good and peaceable relationship” between faith groups remains fragile and leaders need to develop trust and respect for one another.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), meanwhile, agreed on the importance of putting necessary legislative measures in place to safeguard religious harmony here.
“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,” MUIS said in its statement.