22 Nov 2019

Statement on Misleading Facebook Post by “NUSSU-NUS Students United”

1. A Facebook post by “NUSSU – NUS Students United” (“NSU”) on 17 November 2019 misleadingly quoted Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, in order to give a false impression of what he had actually said.


2. The NSU Post quotes Minister Shanmugam as having said, on 7 October 2019, in Parliament:


“If we do not separate religion from politics, then whose religion comes into politics?”


3. The NSU Post then goes on to misuse this quote to falsely assert that if Ms Rachel Ong, a member of the People’s Action Party, wishes to run for elections, she must “resign ALL executive positions with ROHEI, an organisation with religious leanings.” 


4. This directly contradicted what Minister Shanmugam had said in Parliament.  The Minister had in fact said that Members of Parliament (MPs), even Ministers, can hold positions in religious organisations:


“We have had Ministers, Members of Parliament who were lay preachers. So, they hold senior positions in a religious organisation and who are lay persons who hold other jobs and businesses. As I have said, they can be Members of Parliament, they can be Ministers and you cannot be saying they cannot exercise their (civil and political) rights. I think it is difficult to draw bright lines…We have got to look at these things with care and without a party lens, to decide on what is good for Singapore. We must handle these issues with sensibility, care and wisdom. ”


5. The Minister did not say that a political candidate running for elections, or an MP, must resign from all executive positions in organisations with religious leanings. In fact he said the very opposite, that they can continue to hold such posts, and as he said, these things must be dealt with wisdom and common sense.


6. The quote on separation of religion and politics that was set out in the NSU post relates to a very different point that the Minister had made. He had said that religious beliefs should not, and cannot be said to be the bases for public policy making. That is quite different from saying that MPs should resign from all positions, in organisations with religious leanings. As the Minister said in Parliament, all persons, including religious leaders, have civil and political rights.


7. Minister Shanmugam’s speech in Parliament can be found at the Parliament of Singapore’s website [1].


8. The NSU Post also takes a quote of Mr Lee Kuan Yew out of context to further mislead. In 1987, at the National Day Rally, Mr Lee said:


“Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off.”


9. The NSU Post misuses Mr Lee’s quote to falsely assert that he had meant that religious leaders had no political rights. Mr Lee was actually saying that religious leaders who wanted to make political statements should not do so in their capacity as religious leaders. Instead, they should enter the political arena as politicians, and give their views.


10. Singapore is a secular state. We do not have an established or official religion. Nor do we allow anyone to use his or her religion for political purposes, or any group to promote a religion in the political arena. But this doesn’t mean we are anti-religion or that we disallow people of faith from participating in politics. A secular state does not mean we have to be anti-religion. And we are not anti-religion.


11. It is useful to note that the “NUSSU – NUS Students United” Facebook page is neither the official page of the National University of Singapore (NUS)’s Student Union, nor its affiliate’s page. The name, which appears to have been disingenuously chosen, may lead readers to assume that the views espoused on the page are being expressed by NUS and/or its students.[2] The name as well as its deliberately misleading posts shows the site is run by people with no integrity, bent on sowing discord and hatred. The public ought to be discerning of those who launch such attacks from behind the anonymity of the Internet. Those who launch such attacks should:


(a) Be more ethical: Do not peddle in falsehoods.


(b) Be more transparent: Do not try and mislead people as to what you really are.


(c) Be transparent also about your political leanings, so that readers can judge for themselves what weight to place on your views.

Goh Chour Thong 
Press Secretary to Minister for Home Affairs

[1] https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/sprs3topic?reportid=bill-388; https://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/sprs3topic?reportid=bill-389 

[2] While there is a clarification on their facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/247106972599378/posts/379416436035097), the title of the group is calculated to mislead, and some have been misled. For example, at least one news site, The Independent Singapore, has reported the post as having been made by NUS students.


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