U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 - Singapore

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government bans some religious groups.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The relationship among religious communities in society is generally amicable. The Government does not tolerate speech or actions that affect religious harmony.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, the Government bans some religious groups. The Constitution provides that every citizen or person in the country has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate his religious belief as long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality.

There is no state religion. However, all religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and must be registered legally under the Societies Act. The 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, which was prompted by actions that the Government perceived as threats to religious harmony, including aggressive and "insensitive" proselytizing and "the mixing of religion and politics," gave the Government the power to restrain leaders and members of religious groups and institutions from carrying out political activities, criticizing the Government, creating "ill-will" between religious groups or carrying out subversive activities. The act also prohibits judicial review of its enforcement or of any possible denial of rights arising from it. The Government deregistered the Singapore Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1972 and the Unification Church in 1982, making them unlawful societies.

The Government plays an active but limited role in religious affairs. It does not tolerate speech or actions, including ostensibly religious speech or action, that affect racial and religious harmony. The Government also seeks to assure that citizens, the great majority of whom live in publicly subsidized housing, have ready access to religious organizations traditionally associated with their ethnic groups by assisting religious institutions to find space in these public complexes. The Government maintains a semiofficial relationship with the Muslim community through the Islamic Religious Council (MUIS) set up under the Administration of Muslim Law Act. The MUIS advises the Government on concerns of the Muslim community and has some regulatory functions over Muslim religious matters. The Government facilitates some financial assistance to build and maintain mosques.

Religious Demography

Approximately 77 percent of the citizen and permanent resident population of just over 3.2 million are Chinese, 15 percent are Malay, and 7 percent are Indian. According to an official survey, 86 percent of citizens and residents profess some religious faith or belief. Of this group, slightly more than half (54 percent) practice Buddhism, Taoism, ancestor worship, or other faiths traditionally associated with ethnic Chinese. Approximately 15 percent are Muslim, 13 percent are Christian, and 3 percent are Hindu. Among Christians, the majority of whom are Chinese, non-Catholics, mostly Protestants, outnumber Roman Catholics slightly more than two-to-one. There are also small Sikh, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Jain communities.

The Constitution acknowledges ethnic Malays as "the indigenous people of Singapore" and charges the Government to support and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and language interests. Virtually all ethnic Malays are Muslim.

The Presidential Council on Minority Rights examines all pending bills to ensure that they are not disadvantageous to a particular group. It also reports to the Government on matters affecting any racial or religious community and investigates complaints. In June 1998, the Government established a select committee, at the request of members of the Muslim community, to consider the community's views on legislation that could affect the scope of Islamic courts. In October 1999, the Government proposed compulsory education for all children, which prompted concern from the Malay/Muslim community on the fate of madrasahs (Islamic religious schools). In response the Government proposed to exempt madrasah students from compulsory attendance in national schools provided that the students meet minimum standards in core secular subjects such as science, mathematics, and English. No decision was reached by mid-2000.

Governmental Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Government restricts certain religions by application of the Societies Act; it has banned Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church. The Government deregistered and banned the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1972 on the grounds that its roughly 2,000 members refuse to perform military service (which is obligatory for all male citizens), salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the State. The Government regards such refusal as prejudicial to public welfare and order. Although the Court of Appeals in 1996 upheld the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses to profess, practice, and propagate their religious belief, the result of deregistration has been to make meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses illegal. The Government also has banned all written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, both publishing arms of Jehovah's Witnesses. In practice this has led to confiscation of Bibles published by the group, even though the Bible itself has not been outlawed.

In 1998 a member of Jehovah's Witnesses lost a law suit against a government school for wrongful dismissal, allegedly because he refused to sing the national anthem or salute the flag. The Court of Appeals heard his appeal in March 1999 and subsequently denied it.

The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, also known as the Unification Church, was dissolved in 1982 by the Minister for Home Affairs.

Missionaries, with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses and representatives of the Unification Church, are permitted to work and to publish and distribute religious texts. However, while the Government does not prohibit evangelical activities in practice, it discourages activities that might upset the balance of intercommunal relations.

The Presidential Council on Religious Harmony reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony that are referred to the Council by the Minister or by Parliament. The Council also considers and makes recommendations to the Minister on restraining orders referred to the Council by the Minister. Such orders are directed at individuals to restrain them from causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will, or hostility among religious groups, putting them on notice that they should not repeat the act of conduct, and advising that failure to do so would result in prosecution in a court of law.

The Government does not promote interfaith understanding directly. However, it sponsors activities to promote interethnic harmony, and, since the primary ethnic minorities are predominantly of one faith (most Malays are Muslim, and most Indians are Hindu), its programs to promote ethnic harmony have implications for interfaith relations.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations among religious communities in society are generally amicable. Virtually all ethnic Malay citizens are Muslim, and ethnic Malays constitute the great majority of the country's Muslim community. The perspectives held by non-Malays on the Malay community and by Malays on the non-Malay community are made up of attitudes toward ethnicity and religion that are virtually impossible to separate.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The 2000 Report covers the period from July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000

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