Religious harmony law to be updated to deal with new threats: PM Lee, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Religious harmony law to be updated to deal with new threats: PM Lee

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Changes to religious harmony law to deal with new threats will be tabled next week, says PM Lee

Changes to a law that safeguards religious harmony in Singapore will be introduced in Parliament next week, a move that will pave the way for the Government to deal with new threats in a comprehensive and timely manner.

Announcing this yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the Government has never had to invoke its powers under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in the last 30 years. But the situation has changed significantly during this time, he said.

"The proliferation of social media has made it much easier for people to cause offence through spreading vitriol and falsehoods, and for others to take offence," PM Lee said at a 70th anniversary dinner of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO).

The Act, which was passed in 1990 but took effect two years later, lets the Government issue restraining orders against those who sow discord among faiths, among other things. Plans to update it were announced last month by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Yesterday, PM Lee noted that Singapore has made great strides in building mutual trust and confidence, with people able to discuss sensitive matters more openly and candidly.

"But we do not allow unfettered and rambunctious discussion on religion, or even worse provocative or blasphemous cartoons, performances and videos, nor are we likely to do so for a very long time to come.

"We have no illusions about the depth of the religious fault lines in our society, and the harm that will befall us if we neglect to manage them," he said, noting Singapore had suffered religious strife in the past.

Elsewhere, the prevailing trends are towards inter-religious strife, intolerance and extremism, he said.

Even in countries where different groups have lived together for centuries, race and religion are sensitive issues that can be exploited, Mr Lee said, citing Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

"Against that backdrop, what we have in Singapore is very precious, very rare and remarkable," he said.

The Act sets the ground rules for all groups and to help the Government police these rules, PM Lee said. The Act also established the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which has given good advice on dealing with sensitive religious matters that arise from time to time, he noted.

Its existence has helped to maintain peace and harmony, which people sometimes take for granted, he said. While he did not elaborate on the proposed changes to the Act, he said religious leaders were consulted widely on them, and he was grateful for their support.

But legislation is only one part of Singapore's approach in building religious harmony, which, he warned, can be disrupted by religious problems elsewhere.

"We must also have religious and government leaders who are broad-minded and enlightened, who understand the context in which we operate, and who set an example for others to spread the message of tolerance and understanding," PM Lee added.

For its 70th anniversary, the IRO launched an initiative - We The People of Singapore - with the Central Singapore Community Development Council.

It will promote better understanding of the various faiths in Singapore, through digital outreach efforts, such as a revamped IRO website and the use of social media.