By Alex Kennedy
The Associated Press
SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore’s prime minister warned that “aggressive preaching” by religious groups and attempts to convert others threaten the city-state’s stability.
Lee Hsien Loong, a Buddhist by birth, said his education at the island’s Catholic High School was an example ofhow different religions can coexist peacefully.
“The most dangerous fault line (in Singapore) is race and religion,” Lee said.
Singapore’s majority Buddhist Chinese, Malay Muslims, and Indian Hindus have largely avoided conflict since race riots between Chinese and Malays left about 40 dead in the 1960s.
“Christians can’t expect this to be a Christian society,” he said. “Muslims can’t expect this to be a Muslim society, and ditto with the Buddhists, the Hindus, and the other groups.”
In the most recent census in 2000, 43 percent of Singaporeans said they were Buddhist, 15 percent Muslim, 15 percent Christian, 8.5 percent Taoist, and 4 percent Hindu.
Lee cited the case of a Christian couple who were jailed earlier this year for distributing religious pamphlets that were deemed offensive by those of different faiths, and he condemned those who try to convert ailing hospital patients “who don’t want to be converted.”
“You push your religion on others, you cause nuisance and offense,” he said.
He also singled out a group from an evangelical Christian church that briefly took control of a women’s association in April and said they opposed what they claimed was the association’s advocacy of homosexuality.
They were voted out soon after.
“This was an attempt by a religiously motivated group to enter civil space, take over an NGO they don’t approve of, and impose their agenda,” Lee said. “This risked a broader spillover into relations between different religions.”
He said the government must remain secular because Singapore’s authority and laws “don’t come from a sacred book.” Lee’s People’s Action Party has ruled Singapore since independence 50 years ago.
Lee said there had been a global surge in religious fervor, including in the United States and Islamic countries.
“There is a wave of revival, mega-churches, and tele-evangelism,” Lee said. “Religion and politics are supposed to be separated in America, but in reality, they are closely entangled.”
Lee said Malaysia, Singapore’s neighbor with which it formed a federation from 1963 to 1965, had imposed strict rules on food, dress, alcohol, and contact between men and women.
“Very strict rules prevail now which did not prevail a generation ago,” he said. “It’s become a conservative, more rigorous Islamic society.”
Lee said Singapore’s prosperity depends on people respecting the beliefs of others.
“We have to keep religion separate from politics,” he said. “Religion in Singapore can’t be the same as religion in America or in an Islamic country.”
“We all have to adopt ‘live and let live’ as our principle.” ♦