In a secular state, laws cannot be tied to religion

Professor Tommy Koh presented a clear and convincing case for the repeal of Section 377A of the Singapore Penal Code (Section 377A: Science, religion and the law; Sept 25).

The most compelling point Prof Koh made was that religious leaders "should respect the separation of state and religion and refrain from pressuring the Government to criminalise conduct which they consider sinful".

There are, indeed, alarming consequences of allowing religion to intrude into our judicial system, besides it making a mockery of our claim as a secular state.

The first consequence is the divisive effect of incorporating objective morality espoused by religions into our constitution.

To allow the law to evolve with society so as to achieve collective acceptance requires it to be unshackled from any religious imposition of objective morality. Otherwise, the risk of a divided society is real.

Recent signature-collecting initiatives by religious communities on social media have already generated unease and disquiet among our people, who now hold diverse views on Section 377A.

It is perfectly legitimate for religious followers to want to abide by their religion's guidance on matters of sexuality, and for religious leaders to mete out judgments or punitive measures against those of their flocks who breach such guidance.

In this sense, there is no necessity to resort to the overarching arms of the law to make religious followers toe the line.

Therefore, a reason against repealing Section 377A is to impose a specific religious dogma on society at large by the sheer force of the law.

This is an unconscionable manoeuvre by any group, to say the least, and carries the consequence of denying the freedom of choice.

Finally, it is arrogance to presume that only moral positions laid down by divinity should shape human condition in society.

In this age of science and technology, new discoveries and thoughts have kept us in a perpetual learning mode.

We should probably be more receptive to new perspectives on human values.

Singapore is a secular state by choice.

Our laws are a living document that is geared to move with time and public sentiments, not to be dictated by any religion.

Yeoh Teng Kwong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2018, with the headline 'In a secular state, laws cannot be tied to religion'. Print Edition | Subscribe