SINGAPORE – Singapore will need to update a 30-year-old law that safeguards religious harmony to ensure it can effectively deal with current and future threats, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (July 24).

The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) has to be updated with the agreement of key stakeholders, including the people, he added.

Speaking at a forum organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and Home Affairs Ministry, the minister noted the spread of hate speech on social media as well as the prevalence of segregationist practices and identity politics.

The Government, he said, has discussed the issue extensively with religious leaders and groups.

“They are all in sync, they all agree, with broadly the direction we want to go,” he added.

The MRHA, which was enacted in 1990 and came into force in 1992, was built on the principles of separating religion and politics.

One key aspect of the law is to punish those who make derogatory remarks about religions. “We must be able to deal with it effectively in the modern information arena,” said Mr Shanmugam.

Noting that the law is also meant to prevent people from playing the religious card in politics, he said it must be updated to “make sure that we keep to that commitment”.

Citing the discussion on the law when it was passed in 1990 and a White Paper on it, Mr Shanmugam said the Government had made a lot of effort to ensure it was well-understood then.

It would similarly do so this time around.

“We took a lot of trouble 30 years ago to make sure it was understood, accepted by the population, as to why we need it. We took some time and there was a White Paper and a lot of discussion around it,” he said.

“We have been discussing with religious groups, religious leaders, but stakeholders are also the people, we need to have it put out, and eventually it will be discussed in Parliament. Looking at the trends both in the region and the world, that’s pretty essential, that we keep up with the times.”

During an earlier panel session at the forum on on religion, extremism and identity politics, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Professor Rohan Gunaratna said Sri Lanka was in the process of introducing a law modelled on the MRHA.