SINGAPORE - The recently amended religious harmony law protects both religious groups as well as non-religious ones, like the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (March 2).
It does so by dealing with both groups equally, he told Parliament, as the new provisions in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) not only reduce conflicts between and within religious groups, but also prevent religion from being used as a basis to attack groups that may not be of a religious persuasion, such as the LGBT community.
Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking in the debate on his ministry's budget, made the point when he highlighted the amended Act as one of the key accomplishments of the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2019.
The Act, which came into effect in 1992, was updated in October 2019 to prevent religious organisations from becoming channels for foreigners to bring their agenda and values into Singapore, among other things.
Mr Shanmugam recounted that many LGBT groups "have told us they felt targeted as a community".
At the same time, religious groups also felt they were targeted by LGBT groups, he added.
Hence, the Act was amended so that both groups would be dealt with similarly.
The approach stems from the position that every Singaporean has a place in Singapore, he said.
"They must feel safe and we will take actions against anyone who threatens anyone else's physical safety. We should all be free to express our individual views, but in a responsible manner."
For this reason, the amended Act, in an explanatory statement, used the LGBT community as an example of what will be covered by the new provisions, Mr Shanmugam said.
So the new framework has actually enhanced religious freedom in Singapore because people of all religions "feel confident and comfortable to go out there and practice their faiths", knowing there is a very protective framework in place.
It likewise applies to the agnostic, he added.
Preventing religious differences is crucial for maintaining Singapore's social harmony, the foundation for the country's peace, progress and prosperity, the minister noted, as he pointed to various countries "struggling with identity politics and the fractured relationships between communities and within communities".
Mr Shanmugam said surveys and feedback from residents have shown people in Singapore "overwhelmingly support" its approach of coming down quite hard on those who use religion to create public and social discord.
He added that "the success of our policies is shown by the fact that we have never had to actually formally invoke the MRHA" since its creation.