Leave religious studies out of secular schools

Students at a madrasah, or Islamic religious school.
Students at a madrasah, or Islamic religious school. PHOTO: MUIS

I have reservations about the proposals to include comparative religious studies in schools ("Religious studies can help foster good values" by Mr Syed Alwi Altahir; March 7).

My family belongs to the 18.5 per cent of Singaporean residents who do not have a religious affiliation ("English most common home language, bilingualism also up"; March 10).

My daughter and I are former members of the Catholic Church, and ever since we left the Church, we have been subjected to questions regarding our "godless" state.

My daughter has had to fend off people from a certain religion who tend to be overly fervent in their proselytising in her local university.

Though all religions encourage altruism and good moral values, it does not mean that people without a religion are lacking in moral fibre, and that their perceived deficiency has to be rectified by those belonging to a particular religion.

Indeed, I have come across many outwardly religious people who are none too charitable, and "godless" people who are the epitome of virtue.

Just as parents belonging to a particular religion would determine that their children - at least in their early years - adopt their religion, so too should the wishes of non-religious parents - that their children not be exposed to religious teaching of any kind - be respected.

There is a fine line between the teaching of comparative religions and proselytising by an overzealous teacher, especially if the children do not have a religion.

Also, how would teachers approach certain tenets of religion that are at odds with science? This includes the issue of creationism or intelligent design - promulgated by most religions - versus evolution by natural selection, as subscribed to by most people without a religion.

Just as the atheists, agnostics and secular humanists among us do not impose our "beliefs" or "non-beliefs" on others, religious people should also not try to force their particular brand of religion on us.

We should leave the teaching of religious studies out of our secular schools, and confine such teaching to the respective places of worship of the different faiths.

These places of worship can have a mutual exchange of teachers to one another's religious classes.

If in the event that schools incorporate religious studies in their curriculum, I hope that parents would have a final say as to whether their children should attend such classes, especially when the family belongs to no organised religion.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline 'Leave religious studies out of secular schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe