Your Letters

Religious voices part of debate on common space

In her commentary on Nov 1, assistant political editor Rachel Chang characterised religion as a force opposing secularism ("In face of rising religiosity, keep faith with the secular state").

She highlighted the cases of City Harvest Church (CHC) and Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC), and hinted that these churches came close to challenging the state.

I cannot agree with her commentary for several reasons.

Ms Chang suggested that CHC's comments that it "respected" the court's judgment was "an implicit challenge to the secular judiciary's judgment".

I find this bizarre, as in normal parlance, to "respect" a decision also means to submit to it. In fact, CHC's willingness to respect the court's judgment, despite its own convictions of innocence, shows a submission to the rule of law.

Next, Ms Chang also suggested that FCBC's High Court petition was "(challenging) the authority of the secular state... to determine the perimeters of the common space".

However, the court is the exact body designed to deal with disputes involving employment law and religious freedom.

It is, therefore, illogical to claim that an exercise of the judicial process is to defy the state. It is also a dangerous statement, as it assumes that religious groups are not entitled to legal protection.

The crux of the matter lies in understanding that Singapore does not define "secularism" or "common space" in anti-religious terms.

Instead, the secular state is neutral in that it does not adopt a specific religion, but similarly does not accord special weight to non-religious views.

Hence, petitions to allow Muslims to wear the hijab are not "challenges" against the common space but part of an evolving discussion of what the common space entails.

Similarly, though religious bodies tend to form stronger voices in moral debates, this is the natural outworking of the democratic process, rather than any attempt to subvert the authority of the state.

As liberal philosophy grows in popularity, the greatest pressure on the status quo is likely to come from tensions between religious groups and those who are antagonistic towards them.

Let us remember that tolerance and diversity go both ways. Singapore has a track record of peaceful accommodation between vastly different groups. Let us keep that going.

Han Junwei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'YourLetters Religious voices part of debate on common space'. Print Edition | Subscribe