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Religion, politics and the line between

No right to impose my personal beliefs on others

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 4:11 PM Updated: Oct 24, 2012 9:51 AM

An interview with Mr Hri Kumar Nair, an MP and chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, who says that even though he is religious, he has no right to impose his beliefs of on others.

Q: Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean made it clear that religious leaders should not get involved in politics. But do you think the line between religion and politics is so clear?

It is impossible to draw up clear lines or definitions to deal with every conceivable issue and situation. Dealing with such issues will require good judgment.

However, in most cases, I believe the line is clear. A religious group can, for example, carry out its mission to help the poor without politicising the issue. Where the area is grey, the answer is for the religious group and the Government to have a full and frank discussion about it.

Mr Teo referred in Parliament to the many official and unofficial lines of communication between religious groups and the Government. These would include involving the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which is chaired by a retired Supreme Court judge and comprises members who represent the major religions in Singapore and other members who have distinguished themselves in public service or community relations. These channels should be used if there are any doubts.

Q: Mr Teo also explained that there is a difference between an individual asserting his political rights, and a religious organisation or person using religion to advance an agenda in politics. Do you think this is necessarily the case? As a Catholic, do you find it difficult to draw the line when you engage in politics?

I agree with Mr Teo that there is a difference. It is sometimes difficult to draw the line because faith is a powerful force which often drives what a religious person says or does, both in his private and professional capacities. I abide by the simple rule that we are governed by secular laws and I have no right to impose my personal beliefs onto others.

Q: As civil society seeks to play a greater role and the Government encourages greater civic action, do you think there is more room for religious organisations to play a part, and will the line be increasingly blurred? How do you see this separation of religion and politics evolving in the future?

Religion and religious groups have been the force of much good in society. There is no reason why they cannot continue to contribute positively without getting involved in politics.

However, as society evolves and more of us take an active interest in Singapore's progress, I think it is inevitable that there will be instances where the two may overlap.

What is critical is how the players involved and the rest of society react when that happens. How such issues are resolved will depend less on what laws we have, and more on the strength, character and judgment of our political and religious leaders.