Any intrusion by religion into secular space is alarming

ST letter (online) by Ms Alicia Wong
30 May 2009

ST link

I REFER to Wednesday’s report, ‘No ‘bright line’ between religion and politics’. I disagree that religion and politics are not clearly separated in Singapore.

The Singapore brand of secularism is not anti-religious. There is, however, a great difference between allowing, supporting and ensuring a fair representation of religion in social contexts and allowing religious participation in Parliament. Therein lies the separation between religion and politics in Singapore. It is in this context that policy decisions on topics such as abortion, stem cell research, euthanasia, homosexuality and sex education are decided by a non-partisan government, to ensure a pluralistic and tolerant society where individual rights and diverse views are respected.

Religiously motivated individuals are welcome to contribute to secular society. But the actions of individuals motivated by religious beliefs should not impose on the private and public space of others who do not share those beliefs.

For example, it is not wrong for women from the same religious institution to be motivated by their religious beliefs to take action in society. I believe they would meet no opposition from civil society, religious bodies or government authorities if they started their own organisation to run programmes according to their beliefs. A healthier solution would be to work together with people who are different and engage in dialogue. A takeover, however, highlights the difference. Religious expression is allowed, but not religious imposition. That is the essence of secularism.

In a young multireligious society like Singapore, any intrusion by religion into secular space is alarming. Notably, in a recent occurrence, the local press took a responsible stand to ensure that civil society remains secular.

The most significant forces of religious fundamentalism in the world today are fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam. Some Christian fundamentalists in the United States oppose secularism, claiming that there is a ‘radical or militant secularism’ ideology being adopted and secularism is a threat to Christian rights and morality.

Thankfully here in Singapore, many Christians and Muslims support a secular state. Unlike in the US, our political leaders do not publicly declare or support any religious beliefs in particular, even if they are adherents. The heads of the religious bodies in Singapore do not agitate for a voice in Parliament. Nor do they enter civil space in non-religious guise. The secularism practised by our political and religious leaders shows us clearly the separation between religion and politics.

Alicia Wong (Ms)