Revised law to preserve religious harmony in Singapore

02 Sep 2019 2 min read

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The Government intends to update the nearly 30-year-old Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) to act swiftly against threats to religious harmony and foreign influence.

The first reading of the amendment Bill, following close consultations with religious leaders, was tabled by Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs, Ms Sun Xueling in Parliament on 2 September 2019. 

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), was first enacted in 1990 to allow followers of different religions to exercise moderation and tolerance towards each other, and to keep religion and politics separate.

Therefore, to safeguard religious organisations against foreign influences, which may affect our religious harmony, the following provisions are proposed in the new law – The leaders of religious organisations will have to be Singapore Citizens (SCs) or Permanent Residents (PRs) and the majority of the religious organisation’s governing body will have to be SCs.

However, religious organisations may be granted exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Religious organisations will have to disclose any single-time donation of $10,000 or more if they are not from SCs or PRs. Certain types of donation will be exempted, such as those given in donation boxes, proceeds collected during religious ceremonies, non-cash donations, and zakat and fitrah.

Anonymous donations and donations from foreigners who are working and living in Singapore, such as Work Pass and Long-Term Visit Pass holders will also be exempted.

Religious organisations with affiliations to foreign individuals or organisations who are in a position to exert control over them will have to declare such affiliations.

The Bill will also introduce a new Community Remedial Initiative (CRI), that will give those who have wounded the feelings of another religious community an opportunity to better understand the affected community and mend ties. Examples of remedial actions may include a public or private apology to the aggrieved parties, or participation in inter-religious events.

The CRI will be voluntary in nature. The CRI will be taken into account when assessing whether to prosecute the person for the offending act.

Some of the other key changes proposed include allowing restraining orders issued under the Act to take effect immediately to prevent statements deemed offensive to religious communities from spreading on the Internet and social media. Currently, the Government must serve a 14-day notice before the order takes effect.

In addition, restraining orders can be issued against religious organisations in which foreigners are found to be threatening racial harmony in Singapore. Such organisations could then be prohibited from receiving donations from foreign donors.

Image: Sun Xueling’s Facebook