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Arguments by religious groups can be part of secular space

Assistant political editor Rachel Chang, in her commentary on Nov 1, expressed concern about conflict, or "collision", between religious people and the secular state ("In face of rising religiosity, keep faith with the secular state").

Singapore is a democracy where the state is composed of its citizens and represents its interests. People disagree quite strongly about many social and political issues in Singapore. Political debate should not be treated as a collision with the state just because those doing so hold religious beliefs.

Also, because Singapore is a diverse democracy, citizens will invariably disagree with one another about the morality of some enacted laws and legal judgments.

As long as these citizens (whether they are religious or not is immaterial here) do not reject the state's right to enact and enforce those laws, the fact that they believe that a law or judgment is immoral should not be considered worrisome.

If religious people are able to articulate their personal beliefs in secular, civic terms, they should be treated no differently from their non-religious neighbours.

An argument made by a religious person or even by a leader of a religious group is not automatically a religious argument. A religious argument is one made in terms of an authority accepted only by adherents of a particular religion: appeals to sacred scripture, the official teachings of a religious sect, or the ideas of a respected figure.

On the other hand, philosophy, science and logical reasoning are the proper tools of secular discourse and should be accepted as such even when they are utilised by religious people.

The legislative gridlock in the United States is not caused by growing religiosity alone. It is the result of political polarisation: The Democrats have been moving to the left on many issues while the Republicans have been moving to the right and influential sections on both sides have no interest in compromise.

Dominic Cooray

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Arguments by religious groups can be part of secular space'. Print Edition | Subscribe