Changes proposed to Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act: 5 things to know about the law

Members of the Muslim and Christian communities as well as grassroots and religious leaders of various faiths share an iftar meal at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Bukit Timah Road during Ramadan, on May 27, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was enacted in 1990 to safeguard the separation of religion and politics, and ensure moderate religious influences in Singapore.

With the growing influence of social media and the Internet, changes to the MRHA are under way.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is proposing amendments to the Act after reviewing it and consulting religious leaders.

Here are five things to know about the MRHA and the proposed changes tabled in Parliament on Monday (Sept 2):

1. What is the MRHA?

The MRHA was enacted in 1990 and came into effect in 1992.

It currently provides powers for the Government to issue restraining orders against those who cause enmity, hatred, ill will or hostility between religious groups.

The Act also targets those who use the guise of religion to promote a political cause, carry out subversive activities or cause discontent against the Government or President.

The President confirms the restraining order after receiving recommendations from the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.

The restraining order can prevent a person from addressing religious groups on subjects specified by the Government. It can also prevent them from printing, editing, distributing or holding office on the editorial board of publications produced by religious groups.

2. Safeguarding local religious organisations against foreign influences

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to further safeguard local religious organisations against foreign influences.

It is proposing that key positions in religious organisations be held by only Singaporeans or permanent residents, with "exemptions granted on a case-by-case basis".

Religious organisations will also have to disclose any donation of $10,000 or more if the donors are not Singaporeans or permanent residents.

Local religious organisations will have to declare affiliations to foreigners or foreign organisations.

"Singapore is vulnerable to foreign actors exploiting religious fault lines in our society, or imposing values which may not be appropriate for us and may undermine our religious harmony through our religious organisations," the MHA said in a statement.

3. Making amends: The Community Remedial Initiative

A new Community Remedial Initiative is being proposed so that those found hurting religious sentiments can undertake activities and mend ties with the community.

According to the MHA, the Community Remedial Initiative, which is voluntary, will be taken into account when the assessment is made on whether to prosecute those who commit offences under the MRHA.

4. Restraining order to take effect once it is issued

In order to take swifter action to prevent the spread of offensive statements against religious groups, the MHA is proposing that restraining orders take immediate effect once issued.

Currently, the Government has to give a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

The ministry is also proposing provisions for a restraining order to be issued against a local religious organisation to prohibit donations or place restrictions on foreign leadership if the foreigners are found to be upsetting religious harmony through their influence on the local organisation.

5. Consolidating offences related to religious harmony

The MHA is proposing to consolidate Penal Code offences related to religion under the MRHA. It says that the move will strengthen and focus efforts to maintain religious harmony.

Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

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