By Zheng Huifen
Treasurer at Humanist Society (Singapore)
Amos Yee will start serving his jail sentence today (Oct 13). The 17-year-old teenage blogger had been sentenced on Sept 29 to 6 weeks in jail and fined $2,000 for (among other charges) the offence of deliberately wounding religious feelings.
When news of his sentence broke, most reactions on social media have been supportive of the jail sentence and fine handed to Yee, some even calling for stiffer sentences. The reasoning behind such reactions is ostensibly to protect Singapore’s fragile social fabric from being disrupted by offensive speech regarding religion or race.
Amos’ case is unique as he appears to have taken the intentional route of being excessively vulgar, no doubt with the goal to garner widespread publicity. This tactic has clearly worked as the Amos Yee case is now discussed in international fora.
However, the Humanist Society (Singapore) urges everyone to distinguish between the deliberately vulgar expression versus the content of Amos’ words.
Unless the person is expressing speech calling for physical or mental harm to be done to others, we do not believe that speech alone should be punishable by law.
People wishing to voice their views should be able to do so without the fear of being charged with the crime of “deliberately intending to wound the religious feelings” of other people.
While our Society agrees that it is necessary to preserve Singapore’s multi-cultural and religious harmony, we believe that the best way for such protection is to continue sensitive discussions, albeit in a mutually respectful context and environment.
Religious harmony in Singapore is based on mutual tolerance but not mutual understanding. True understanding can only come about if there is free discussion and space to find and respect differences.
For the above reasons, it is in Singapore’s long-term interest that sufficient space is given for discussion and critique of religion without fear of being charged for offending religious feelings.
Even if such differences are expressed by individuals in certain offensive or insulting ways, we urge everyone to consider the underlying reason that the person has chosen to be deliberately offensive.
The Society also calls for more avenues to encourage discussion and interaction in person between different communities.
On the Internet, it is easy for persons to hide behind anonymity and espouse hateful views.
However interaction would be very different in real life. For this reason, the Society has been active in various interfaith initiatives and dialogues. This includes interfaith dialogues organised by Explorations into Faith (EiF) and NUS Interfaith Society.
We urge more people to seek out and participate in such interfaith programmes if they truly wish to help preserve the multi-cultural harmony of Singapore.