Facebook post on separating religion and politics 'misleadingly quoted' Shanmugam, says minister's press secretary
SINGAPORE: A Facebook post calling out a member of the People's Action Party (PAP) for her links to a group with religious leanings had "misleadingly quoted" Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, said his press secretary on Friday (Nov 22).
The post by the "NUSSU - NUS Students United" page had detailed PAP member Rachel Ong Sin Yen's ties to consultancy firm ROHEI, which Ms Ong founded and is the chief executive of.
The post said that since the organisation has religious leanings, "if Ms Ong wishes to run for elections, she must resign all executive positions with ROHEI".
It quotes Mr Shanmugam as having said in Parliament on Oct 7: “If we do not separate religion from politics, then whose religion comes into politics?”
This "directly contradicted" what Mr Shanmugam said in Parliament, his press secretary Goh Chour Thong said on Friday.
Mr Goh also said that the people behind the NUSSU - NUS Students United page have no integrity and are "bent on sowing discord and hatred".
"The minister had in fact said that Members of Parliament (MPs), even ministers, can hold positions in religious organisations," Mr Goh said.
In his speech in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam had said: “We have had ministers, Members of Parliament who were lay preachers. So, they hold senior positions in a religious organisation and who are lay persons who hold other jobs and businesses.
"As I have said, they can be Members of Parliament, they can be ministers and you cannot be saying they cannot exercise their (civil and political) rights. I think it is difficult to draw bright lines … We have got to look at these things with care and without a party lens, to decide on what is good for Singapore. We must handle these issues with sensibility, care and wisdom."
"RELIGIOUS BELIEFS SHOULD NOT BE THE BASES FOR POLICYMAKING"
Mr Goh said the minister did not say that a political candidate running for elections, or an MP, must resign from all executive positions in organisations with religious leanings.
"In fact he said the very opposite, that they can continue to hold such posts, and as he said, these things must be dealt with wisdom and common sense."
The quote on separation of religion and politics that was set out in the Facebook post relates to a different point that Mr Shanmugam had made – that religious beliefs should not be the bases for public policymaking, Mr Goh said.
"That is quite different from saying that MPs should resign from all positions, in organisations with religious leanings. As the minister said in Parliament, all persons, including religious leaders, have civil and political rights."
"OUT-OF-CONTEXT" QUOTE FROM LEE KUAN YEW
The same Facebook post also quoted Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
At the 1987 National Day Rally, Mr Lee had said: “Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off.”
The quote was taken "out of context to further mislead", and to falsely assert that he had meant religious leaders had no political rights, Mr Goh said.
"Mr Lee was actually saying that religious leaders who wanted to make political statements should not do so in their capacity as religious leaders. Instead, they should enter the political arena as politicians, and give their views," he said.
In his statement, Mr Goh said that while Singapore is a secular state, this does not mean it is anti-religion.
"We do not have an established or official religion. Nor do we allow anyone to use his or her religion for political purposes, or any group to promote a religion in the political arena. But this doesn’t mean we are anti-religion or that we disallow people of faith from participating in politics."
NOT AN OFFICIAL NUS STUDENT UNION PAGE
The NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook page is neither the official page of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) student union, nor its affiliate’s page, Mr Goh noted.
"The name, which appears to have been disingenuously chosen, may lead readers to assume that the views espoused on the page are being expressed by NUS and/or its students," he said.
"The public ought to be discerning of those who launch such attacks from behind the anonymity of the Internet."
Those who launch such attacks should be more ethical and not peddle in falsehoods, be more transparent and not to try and mislead people, he said.
"Be transparent also about your political leanings, so that readers can judge for themselves what weight to place on your views."