The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) takes a strong stance against threats to Singapore’s race and religious harmony. Legislation, such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, introduce powers that would allow pre-emptive action to be taken to maintain religious harmony in Singapore.

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was enacted in 1990 to provide for powers to maintain religious harmony in Singapore based on two principles:

  1. Followers of different religions should exercise moderation and tolerance towards each other and their beliefs, and not instigate religious enmity or hatred; and
  2. Religion and politics should be kept separate.

These principles remain relevant today. The MRHA was updated on 7 October 2019 to help MHA respond more effectively to incidents of religious disharmony, and strengthen our safeguards against foreign influence that threaten our religious harmony.

Key Amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act

Here are the four key amendments to the Act

1. Introduce Safeguards against Foreign Influence that Affect Religious harmony

To safeguard our religious organisations against malicious foreign influence that affect religious harmony, religious groups will be required to comply with the following requirements.

• Key administrative leadership positions must be held by a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident. This does not apply to spiritual leaders; they can still be foreigners. MHA will consider requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

• Religious groups can still accept donations from foreign sources. However, there will be disclosure requirements. Single monetary donations of $10,000 or more from foreign sources must be declared. Donations from the following foreign sources do not need to be declared, even if it is $10,000 or more:

  1. Singapore Permanent Residents;
  2. Foreigners in Singapore on long-term passes, such as Work Pass or Long Term Visit Pass
  3. Anonymous donations received through donation boxes, or during collective worship or religious ceremonies;
  4. Zakat and Fitrah.

Where there is foreign influence in the religious group which undermines religious harmony and is a threat to Singapore’s peace, Restraining Orders (ROs) can be issued to religious groups to stop them from receiving donations from foreign sources, or impose further leadership requirements.

Religious groups must declare any affiliations to foreign persons or organisations in a position of control or power over the local religious group. This is purely disclosure, and the RO will not be able to compel religious groups to dissociate from their foreign affiliations.

2. Introduce the Community Remedial Initiative (CRI)

If someone has hurt the feelings of another religious community, the Community Remedial Initiative allows them to make amends to the affected community and learn more about our multi-religious society. 

Under the CRI, the Minister for Home Affairs may offer a person who has wounded the feelings of another religious community an opportunity to perform activities to help him better understand the affected religious community, and mend ties with them. Examples of remedial actions may include a public or private apology to the aggrieved parties, or participation in inter-religious events.

The CRI is not mandatory. The alleged offender can refuse to take up this offer, and the non-completion or refusal of the CRI will not be a criminal offence. At the same time, if the offender agrees to complete the remedial actions and does so, the Minister undertakes not to refer this case for criminal prosecution.

3. Updates to the Restraining Order

With the Internet, offensive content can circulate much faster and wider. We will update the RO to swiftly and effectively respond to offensive online content that might cause widespread religious disharmony.

Firstly, the scope of the RO will be expanded to require the offender to remove the offensive online content.

Secondly, we will remove the 14-day notice period for the issuance of ROs.

The safeguards remain unchanged. The individual on which the RO is served, and the religious group which the individual belongs to, will still be able to make representations to the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony (PCRH). The RO will still be reviewed by the PCRH, and the President will still have the powers to confirm, cancel, or vary the RO.

4. Consolidate Offences Related to Religious Harmony under the MRHA

Currently, both the Penal Code and the MRHA have provisions that safeguard religious harmony. To make the MRHA the comprehensive act to safeguard religious harmony, the Penal Code offences that pertain to religion will be consolidated under the MRHA. The offences will cover acts that:

          a. Urge force or violence on the basis of religion, or against a religious group or its members;

          b. Incite feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility against a religious group; and

          c. Insult the religion or wound the religious feelings of another person.

MRHA Infographic

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MRHA Explainer Video

For more information on MRHA, read:

1. Press Release: First Reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill

2. Second Reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law 

3. Second Reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development.

4. Reading of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (Amendment) Bill, Wrap-up Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

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