Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill



The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill 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 purposes in Singapore.1 The Act also provides for the establishment of a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.2

History
On 26 December 1989, the White Paper on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony was presented to Parliament.3 The White Paper set out proposals for legislation to maintain religious harmony and to establish a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.4

On 15 January 1990, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill was tabled in Parliament5 and committed to a Select Committee of Parliament on 23 February 1990.6 Advertisements inviting written representations on the Bill from the public were published in the press on 26 February7 and 25 July 1990.8 A total of 79 written representations were received and presented to the Select Committee for deliberation.9

The Select Committee presented its recommended amendments to the Bill to Parliament, and the Bill was passed on 9 November 1990.10 The Act came into effect on 31 March 1992.11

In February 2007, then 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.12

Rationale for the Act
According to the White Paper, Singapore was not immune to the rise of religious fervour worldwide. Religious groups in Singapore had become more assertive and were competing more intensely for followers than before. This increased the opportunity for inter-religious friction and misunderstanding in a multi-racial and multi-religious society such as Singapore’s.13 

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 would cause enmity or misunderstanding between religious groups.14 Secondly, religion and politics must be kept separate, because if one religious group became involved in politics, other religious groups could follow suit to protect their own interests. Political parties could also advocate policies that favoured one religion over another to garner political support from its followers.15 These could lead to inter-religious tensions and rivalry, resulting in conflict and political instability in Singapore.16

Legislation empowers the Government to effectively maintain these two vital conditions necessary for religious harmony. Moreover, it was deemed better to implement the legislation while relations between the different religious groups were good, rather than in a scenario where religious groups were suspicious of each other.17

Description
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 ill feelings between different religious groups; promotes a political cause; carries out subversive activities; or excites disaffection against the president or the government under the guise of propagating or practising a religious belief. Under the restraining order, the individual(s) may be restrained from addressing any congregation, publishing any publication, or holding office in an editorial board for up to two years.18

A restraining order may also be issued against a person who incites any religious group or institution; or any leader, official or member of a religious group or institution to commit any of the aforementioned acts. It could also be issued against a person who is not a member of any religious group but causes feelings of hatred and hostility between different religious groups.19

Before restraining orders are issued, all facts and supporting documents must be sent to the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony for consideration. Even after the Council supports the recommendation, the elected president will be the final arbiter and must confirm any restraining order issued against an individual. All restraining orders will be published in the Gazette for public scrutiny.20

A person who violates the restraining order may be fined up to $10,000, face a prison sentence of up to two years, or both.21

Presidential Council for Religious Harmony
The Act also provides for the establishment of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.22 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.23

The Council consists of a chairman and between six and 15 other members. The members include representatives of all major religions in Singapore and prominent Singaporeans who have distinguished themselves in public service and community relations.24 The members of the Council are appointed for a period of three years, and are eligible for reappointment. Members other than the Chairman may also be appointed for shorter terms (between one to three years).25

Timeline
26 Dec 1989: The White Paper on The Maintenance of Religious Harmony is presented to Parliament.26 
15 Jan 1990: The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill is tabled in Parliament.27
Feb–Apr 1990: The Bill is committed to a Select Committee of Parliament. 71 written representations are received following an advertisement published in the press, inviting written representations on the Bill.28 The Bill lapses when Parliament prorogued on 21 April 1990.29 
Jun 1990: The Bill is re-introduced after Parliament resumes.30
Jul–Aug 1990: Another advertisement inviting written representations on the Bill is published in the press and an additional eight written representations are received.31
29 Oct 1990: The Select Committee presented its recommendations to Parliament.32
9 Nov 1990: The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill is passed by Parliament.33
31 Mar 1992: The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act comes into effect.34
1 Aug 1992: The first Presidential Council for Religious Harmony is appointed.35



Author

Jean Lim



References
1. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1990, November 10). Religious Harmony Bill passed. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. First religious harmony body appointed. (1992, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
 Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Bills supplement. (1990, January 15). Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill: Explanatory statement (B 1/1990). Retrieved June 17, 2016, from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=f0db9fb9-8e8b-497b-b8fe-cb238fa02660;page=0;query=Id%3A%22025a5306-5380-4510-9b6a-4ef1fc77ba01%22%20Status%3Apublished%20%20TransactionTime%3A20120415000000;rec=0#xn-
4. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
5. Definition of threatening acts and other details spelt out. (1990, January 16). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Henson, B. (1990, February 24). Chok Tong answers MPs' concerns. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. [Page 27 Advertisements Column 1]. (1990, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. [Page 32 Advertisements Column 1]. (1990, July 25). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Teo, A. (1990, November 1). More safeguards proposed for Religious Harmony Bill. The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1990, November 10). Religious Harmony Bill passed. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Religious Harmony Act effective on March 31. (1992, March 28). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lim, L. & Li, X. (2007, July 7). ISA Arrests: The legacy of 1987. The Straits Times, p. 68. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
14. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
15. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
16. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
17. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
18. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
19. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
20. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
21. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
22. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
23. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
24. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
25. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1992). The need for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Singapore: Resource Centre, Publicity Division, Ministry of Information and the Arts, p. 6. (Call no.: RSING 322.1 SIN)
26. Maintenance of religious harmony. (1989). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
27. Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill (Bill no. 14/90). (1990). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. i. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
28. Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill (Bill no. 14/90). (1990). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. i. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
29. Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill (Bill no. 14/90). (1990). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. i. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
30. Jayakumar re-introduces religious harmony Bill. (1990, June 13). The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill (Bill no. 14/90). (1990). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers, p. ii. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
32. Report of the Select Committee on the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill (Bill no. 14/90). (1990). Singapore: Printed for the Govt. of Singapore by the Singapore National Printers. (Call no.: RSING 322.1095957 SIN)
33. Zuraidah Ibrahim. (1990, November 10). Religious Harmony Bill passed. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Religious Harmony Act effective on March 31. (1992, March 28). The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. First religious harmony body appointed. (1992, August 2). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



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.

 

Subject
Philosophy, psychology and religion>>Religion
Religious tolerance--Singapore
Politics and Government
Religion and politics--Singapore