The new framework of Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) will enhance the Singaporean religious freedom by equally protecting religious groups as well as non-religious groups such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
Home Affair Minister K. Shanmugam announced the new amendments to MRHA in Parliament on Monday (2 March) during the debate on his ministry’s budget.
He said that the LGBT community, as well as agnostic groups, will be covered under the amended act which is also the ministry’s key accomplishment last year.
The minister noted that both religious groups and LGBT groups have talked about being targeted as an opposite community, so the amended act will deal with both groups similarly.
He added that surveys and feedback from residents have shown that people here “overwhelmingly support” the approach of coming down quite hard on those who use religion to create public and social discord.
The new provisions in MRHA will reduce conflicts between and within religious groups and prevent religion from being used as a reason to attack non-religious groups such as LGBT community, according to Mr Shanmugam.
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.”
Mr Shanmugam added that the new framework will provide protection to both groups so that people from different religions would feel confident and comfortable to go out and practise their faiths.
During his speech, Mr Shanmugam also highlighted that preventing religious differences is important to maintain the social harmony, a peaceful foundation, progress, and prosperity in Singapore when other countries are fighting with identity politics and the fractured relationships between communities and within communities.
“The success of our policies is shown by the fact that we have never had to actually formally invoke the MRHA since it was enacted,” he remarked.
It was noted that MRHA took effect in 1992 and had its update in October last year to prevent foreigners to use religious organisations to bring their agenda and values into the country.
Last year, with the concern of foreign influences and social media impact, the Parliament had proposed to amend the act, which included introducing safeguards against foreign influences, updating the restraining order, introducing a community remedial initiative, and consolidating offences pertaining to religious harmony under the MHRA.