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2008 Sing. J. Legal Stud. 118 (2008)
Excluding Religion from Politics and Enforcing Religious Harmony - Singapore-Style

handle is hein.journals/sjls2008 and id is 120 raw text is: Singapore Journal of Legal Studies
[2008] 118-142
The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act is a unique feature in the legal landscape of Singapore.
The statute-an important part of the Singapore government's large and extensive arsenal of legal
instruments to regulate inter-ethnic-religious relations in the country-gives the executive untram-
melled discretion to curb political expression and political activity in the interests of maintaining
religious harmony. Placed against the backdrop of its political developments, this article explores
the political motives for the introduction of the statute, examines the exact nature of its structure
and scope, and compares it against other legal instruments that perform similar political control. A
particular focus is upon how the statute underscores the thinking behind Singapore-style state pater-
nalism, and reflects its political leadership's deep distrust of the electorate, and instinct to restructure
voting behaviour and party politics. This article also reflects on the adverse effect of such enforced
stricture on otherwise legitimate political activities by religion-linked organisations in Singapore.
The nature of the ethnic-religious composition of the population, and pervasive gov-
ernment fears of division along ethnic or religious lines, have led to the enshrinement
of a strict state-enforced doctrine of religious harmony in Singapore. Singapore's1
very brief history of relatively minor racial-religious conflicts of the 1950s and 1960s2
occupies an iconic status in the official presentation of its history. This period of
history has been seized upon as the basis of the fears on the part of the dominant
People's Action Party (PAP) political leadership3 that religious sentiments could
Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. I am grateful to Professor
Michael Hor and an anonymous referee for helpful comments on an earlier draft, and Elaine Chew for
excellent research assistance.
Singapore is a multi-ethnic secular state where religion is largely coincidental with ethnicity. The official
categorisation has led to the perpetuation of the stereotypical image of Chinese as practising Buddhism
or Daoism, the Indians as Hindus, and Malays as Muslims, unless expressly stated otherwise. Only
the Christians do not fit this ethnic mould: Khun Eng Kuah, Maintaining Ethno-Religious Harmony
in Singapore (1998) 28(l) J. Contemp. Asia 103 at 104.
2   See infra notes 19 to 21, and accompanying text. These should be regarded as very minor when compared
to other racial-religious conflicts in post-World War I newly-independent countries.
3   Ever since Singapore's secession from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, the PAP has been in
continuous hegemonic governance and political dominance in Singapore.

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