SINGAPORE - People should be free to express themselves without fear of being attacked, whether they are for or against the repeal of a law criminalising gay sex, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (Aug 22). The Government is looking at ways to ensure that no one will be cancelled for stating their views, he added.
It is also studying how it can protect employees and students from discrimination due to their beliefs. They should not feel pressured to signal any affiliation in workplaces and schools as these are secular spaces, Mr Shanmugam said.
He was speaking about how the Government would address concerns that the repeal of Section 377A could change the tone of society and spark intolerance towards differing views.
"We need to take the concerns seriously," he added.
For instance, many had said during consultations on reviewing Section 377A of the Penal Code that they worry their freedom to preach and express their views will be curtailed by groups that will "cancel them, harass them, attack them".
Such cancel campaigns, which involve marshalling people to ostracise those who are deemed to have said or done the wrong thing, can cause much harm, he said.
The Ministry of Law is looking at measures to deal with this, he said.
"We cannot sit by and do nothing," he added. "People ought to be free to express their views without fearing being attacked - on both sides... We have to look at the right boundaries between hate speech and free speech, in this context. We should not allow a culture where people of religion are ostracised, attacked, for espousing their views or their disagreements with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) viewpoints. And vice versa."
The minister said freedom of religion is a cornerstone, and people should be free to practise their faith or remain non-religious.
He warned that members of any religious group who attack those from a non-religious group, such as an LGBT group, on the basis of their beliefs, or vice versa, would fall afoul of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.
He noted that some worry about pressure to accept LGBT ideology in their workplace, such as employees at foreign multinationals who might feel compelled to put up a Pride flag to signal support for the LGBT community.
"These are matters of conscience. There should be no compulsion or pressure, direct or indirect," said Mr Shanmugam.
"Workplaces should be part of the secular space shared by all Singaporeans. They should not be places where people are compelled or pressured to participate in, or support, non-business related causes. Employees should not be discriminated against at work just because they hold traditional family values or pro-LGBT values."
He said the Manpower Ministry is looking at these, but the law may not be the best solution.
"It may be that we have to advise employers, particularly foreign employers, to be more careful and sensitive in Singapore... This is a country where many people are religious, and that should be respected," he added.