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Singapore PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 20:48
Religious Freedom Ranking:
2 out of 5 stars: Poor


The Constitution of Singapore provides for religious freedom, but both the law and government policies restrict this right. Although the government encourages “religious harmony,” it does not allow speech or activities that it judges as divisive. On the other hand, there have been no reports of non-governmental discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.

The country has a population of 3.77 million. The 2010 census states that 42.5 percent of the population is Buddhist, 15 percent Muslim, 15 percent Christian, 8.5 percent Taoist and 4 percent Hindu. Other religions that constitute less than 1 percent of the population include Sikh, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Jain communities. An estimated 15 percent does not practice any religious belief.

There is no state religion.

All religious groups with 10 or more person must register under the Societies Act. It is possible for the Societies Act to de-register any religious group that the state views harmful to public peace, welfare and good order. The government deregistered the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 and the Unification Church in 1982, making them unlawful societies.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, MUIS, maintains a semiofficial relationship with the government. Its purpose is to protect and promote Muslim citizens’ political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural and linguistic interests. The Administration of Muslim Law Act offers Muslims with the option to have their family affairs regulated by Muslim law, “as varied where applicable by Malay custom.” The Shari’a (Islamic law) court has non-exclusive authority over the marital affairs of Muslims, including maintenance payments, the arrangement of property after divorce, and custody of minor children. Common civil courts enforce Shari’a court orders.

The Presidential Council for Minority Rights inspects all legislation efforts to guarantee convenience to specific racial or religious groups. The Council for Minority Rights also reports on matters relating to racial or religious communities that are referred to by parliament or the government.

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act creates a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony.  The country’s president selects its members on the suggestion of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. It is required that two-thirds of the members be representatives of the major religions in the country. The Council of Religious Harmony reports on issues involving the preservation of religious harmony that are referred to it by the Minister for Home Affairs or by parliament. Groups that attempt to gain new members make themselves vulnerable to charges of disrupting religious harmony.

The government does not allow religious instruction in public schools.  However, private schools are allowed to teach religious classes. In 2009 there were 11 private religious schools providing primary and secondary education.

Missionaries of approved groups are allowed to work, publish and distribute religious materials. However the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act authorized the minister for home affairs to issue restraining orders against any person in a position of authority in any religious organization if the person was creating feelings of hostility between religious groups, advertising political causes, performing rebellious activities, or stimulating feelings of angst towards the government under religious beliefs.  Between 1990 and 2009 no new restraining orders were issued under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

The government has banned the importation and distribution of religious texts by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, the Children of God (also referred to as the Family International) and the Church of Satan. Persons caught with any banned publications can be fined up to $2,000 Singapore Dollars and jailed up to 12 months.

There have been no reports of forced religious conversion.

On August 2009 National Day speech, the minister asserted that racial and religious groups must practice tolerance and “rules that apply one to one group cannot be made into laws that apply to everyone.” Religion and state must be separated; the government and public policy must be based on “secular, rational considerations of public interest”; and schools and workplaces must be comprised of members of all religious. The minister also stated: “We cannot have unbridled freedom of religion at the expense of nation-building and social cohesion, or to such an extent that it foments divisiveness among our people.”

Recently, the government has supported programs such as the Interracial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC), Community Engagement Program (CEP) and the nongovernmental Inter-Religious Organization (IRO). Their main ideals are to promote, encourage and eventually foster a community of racial and religious harmony.


2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Singapore

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 February 2012 20:35