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Masjid Sultan, Singapore Mosque, in Arab Street (Photo: Byelikova Oksana/Shutterstock.com)

The retention of 377A is incongruent with the government’s claims that no religious group should promote ill will or a political cause

The Singapore government seems intent on sending the message to all religious groups that they should not be promoting hatred and ill-will among different faith groups or furthering political causes.

Speaking at this year’s International Conference Singapore, which touches on religious values in a plural world and is organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “We will have to keep the Act up to date to deal with new threats to our religious harmony that may emerge in time to come,”

In tandem with this intent, it would appear that the government is seeking to review the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act to see if it is still effective and fit for purpose. With this mind, is this congruent with the stance the government has taken in relation to the repeal of Section 377A debate?

While I appreciate that the gay community do not constitute a religion, it is important to note that they are still a group of people who have their beliefs and the right to live their lives. In that regard, do the actions taken by fundamental Christians and Muslims constitute behaviour that promotes "hatred and ill-will" towards the gay community? It is after all at the insistence of these religious groups that the gay community's existence continues to be illegal in black letter law.

The heart of the issue is that Singapore is a secular state where no one religion should have dominance over how the country is being governed. Following that line of logic, if it is the Christian and Muslim right wing who are pushing for the retention of Section 377A against the will of the liberals and the gay community, does this not fall within the ambit of creating ill will against those who do not share their beliefs? If so, why is the government noticeably silent on this issue? Does the government deem the welfare of one group more worth defending than the welfare of another group?

Given that section 377A is currently law, its repeal or retention would necessarily fall within the ambit of political will. By allowing the political will of the right wing Christians and Muslims to take precedence over those of other religious groups, is the government allowing the "conservative" Christians and Muslims to further a political cause? The Buddhists have after all publicly supported the repeal of Section 377A.

The government needs to be consistent in its goals and actions. If no religion group is permitted to promote ill will or a certain political agenda, then how it deals with the issue of repeal will also need to be rre-evaluated It cannot stay silent on some issues while coming down heavily on others. Not only is this unfair, it is also confusing in sending out mixed signals.