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Balance must be struck between religious freedom and social harmony

Under Singapore's Constitution, every person has the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion, and every religious group has the right to manage its own religious affairs.

This is as long as the act is not contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.

In the Maintenance of Religious Harmony White Paper 1989, the Government recognised that it was legitimate for each religious group, in instructing its followers, "to point out where its doctrines differ from other religions, and indeed from other branches of the same religion, and why it regards the others as being mistaken".

However, it warned against denigrating other faiths, and cautioned that an unrestrained preacher "denouncing the followers of other faiths as misguided infidels and lost souls" may cause "great umbrage to entire communities".

A balance must be struck between the autonomy of religious individuals and groups , and the public interest in maintaining religious harmony.

I agree with Cornerstone Community Church's senior pastor Yang Tuck Yoong and other experts that concerns with the views of foreign speakers can be managed by getting speakers and heads of religious institutions to sign the appropriate guarantees or undertakings to stay within agreed topics (Foreign speakers: Onus on religious groups?; Oct 5).

The onus could be placed on the group sponsoring the foreign speaker to advise and ensure that the speaker stays within the topic, failing which penalties may apply.

In a time when extremist elements threaten to undermine our way of life, it is worth noting that the duty to ensure the mutual flourishing of our freedoms and social harmony rests not only with the Government, but also on every citizen of Singapore.

Darius Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Balance must be struck between religious freedom and social harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe