Proposed changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act would give the Government enhanced legislative clout to deal with evolving challenges to peace. Suggested changes tabled in Parliament this week to the almost 30-year-old law would allow the authorities to act swiftly against threats to religious harmony and curb foreign influence on religious organisations. The changes would also enable restraining orders issued under the Act to take immediate effect, unlike now when the Government has to serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect. To counter foreign influence, the Bill also proposes that religious organisations ensure key leadership roles are filled by Singaporeans or permanent residents. Such groups must also disclose one-time donations of $10,000 or more from foreigners, and declare any affiliation to foreign individuals or groups in a position to influence them.
The legislative move signals the seriousness with which threats to religious harmony need to be viewed. The fact that the Act has never been invoked since 1992, when it went into effect, attests to the power of its deterrent function. But what has been effective thus far might not continue to be so in the age of social media, where the speed at which inflammatory information travels has overtaken traditional methods of dealing with efforts aimed at disturbing harmony. Offensive online posts, for example, need to be dealt with as expeditiously as possible to minimise the damage they can cause, the longer they are up for view.