If you’re reading this, then you probably loved the previous BDSM-style two swooshes of our whip on this subject. In this scene, we bring you two more swooshes of the whip focusing on evangelical politics, subversion and corruption in Singapore as well as the scope and powers of their Act.
Welcome back, dude. If you’re anything like us, you would have played Final Fantasy VIII and loved how instructor Quistis Trepe busted her moves swinging her whip as she, ermm, instructed students on how to become loyal soldiers of the elite SeeD organisation.
We like BDSM-style learning too, which is why we give you this continuation of our last article on the history of Singapore’s Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, specifically on how evangelicals mixed and matched two dangerous chemical elements together, religion and politics.
In this article, we examine the Act’s its lasting effect on Singapore and whether Malaysia warrants the same treatment.
Whoopachang 3 – Evangelical involvement in politics, subversion and corruption
Evangelical Christian groups in Singapore then, as they still do now, made their presence felt in the political scene. One instance of this, the involvement of some Catholic priests in trade union and labour issues, was cited in the Singapore Government’s White Paper on Maintenance of Religious Harmony.
Other than their involvement in politics, they have also been known to be involved in subversion activities against the state and front grotesque levels of corruption, such as what occurred in the #CityHarvestChurch scandal.
The Church and Society Study Group
Back in the late 1980s, a few Catholic priests in Singapore decided on their own initiative to venture into ‘social action’ and founded a group they called the Church and Society Study Group. This group would publish political booklets criticising the Singapore Government on trade union and labour issues, i.e. basically secular issues. One booklet dated May 1985 accused the Government of emasculating the trade unions and enacting labour laws that curtailed the rights of workers.
The Catholic News, which was also under their control, began publishing articles on political and economic issues, criticising multi-national corporations, amendments to citizenship laws, the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (Singapore) as well as government policies on the media and foreign workers. In 1987, the Singapore Government arrested Vincent Cheng, a Catholic social worker involved in a Marxist conspiracy (see below) in Singapore, under their Internal Security Act (ISA).
The Catholic priests condemned the arrest and held masses demanding his release and inciting their congregations to rise against the Singapore Government, misrepresenting the arrest as an attack on the Singapore Catholic Church. It was only when the Singapore Prime Minister intervened that they agreed to withdraw the allegations and denied that the arrest had to do with the church.
The Marxist conspiracy
Vincent Cheng was first exposed to Marxist ideas during his seminary training in the late 1960s. During his visits to the Phillipines in the 1970s and 1980s, Cheng learnt about liberation theology and saw how the Communist Party of the Phillipines used the Catholic church as cover to advance the Communist cause. Upon his return to Singapore, Cheng applied what he learnt in the Phillipines and set up an elaborate plan to infiltrate, subvert and control Catholic student organisations such as the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic church and the Catholic student societies in the National University of Singapore and Singapore Polytechnic.
Planning to build a united front of pressure groups to confront the Singapore Government, he organised talks, seminars and workshops to arouse feelings of disaffection with society and urge revolutionary change. He also manipulated church publications to subtly propagate Marxist ideas and politicise their readers including lay Catholics. Some articles adopted familiar Communist arguments to denounce the existing system as “exploitative”, “unjust” and “repressive”. He was planning to broaden his network and branch out into various Catholic parishes when he was arrested under the ISA in 1987.
#CityHarvestChurch corruption scandal
The Singapore #CityHarvestChurch was founded in 1989 by Pastor Kong Hee. Highly successful, it blends a traditional biblical message into a more dynamic format of pop-rock music, lively services and social media which has helped the church lure a new generation of followers and turned the churches into major enterprises, diluting Buddhism as Singapore’s traditionally dominant religion.
Members of the church generally contribute a tenth of their salary to the church, which the church then uses to ‘spread the gospel to the ends of the earth’ by supposedly funding different ministries, mission trips and special events. Some of that money, i.e. S$24 million was divested into sham investments and then S$26.6 million more to cover up the deals promoting the singing career of Kong Hee’s wife, Sun Ho, and the church’s founder faces trial, along with five others, on charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts over the use of nearly S$51 million ($40.2 million) in church funds.
Sun Ho herself, however did not face any charge or trial. In 2015, all six were found guilty and sentenced to jail in periods ranging from months to years. They appealed for reduced terms in 2017, and succeeded. We will bring you more about this scandal in our next issue.
But for now, hear the words of a former follower, Geraldine, or Gera, on what she has to say about the church:-
“So our pastor’s wife wanted to enter the music industry to preach the Word of God. Using songs to lead the people honestly didn’t sound like a bad idea. Then it got to her albums. Every single person in church had to have her album. It was compulsory, really. If you didn’t have her album, then you don’t love your church family. And back then we still used portable CD players. Everyone was supposed to have the CD in their bags. It seemed quite ridiculous to me at this point. Especially when they pushed us to buy several albums at service. Yes, several copies of the exact same album. Why? To give Sun Ho the support to spread the Word of God. Everyone had to buy at least 3 to 5 albums. Cell group members collected money from the members to buy the albums. And told them to give the albums to other people to spread the Word. Slowly, the number of albums each church member had to buy was increasing. Pastors and cell group leaders kept on pushing and pressurising everyone to buy the albums. It got to a point whereby another cell group member actually sold his car in order to buy more albums…”
Whoopachang 4 – Enactment of the Act
Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore himself said in a 2009 interview that the growth of evangelical Christianity in Singapore was due to ‘American efforts’. He said:-
“You see most Chinese here are Buddhists or Taoist ancestor worshippers, I’m one of them, so it is a tolerant society, it says whatever you want to believe in, you go ahead. And these youngsters, the educated ones, Western-educated especially, now they are all English-educated, their mother tongue is the second language. Therefore, they begin to read Western books and Western culture and so on and then the Internet. So they begin to question like in Korea that what is this mumbo-jumbo, the ancestors and so on? The dead have gone, they’re praying before this altar and asking for their blessings and then they have got groups, Christian groups who go out and evangelize. They catch them in their teens, in their late teens when they’re malleable and open to suggestions and then they become very fervent evangelists themselves. My granddaughter is one of them.”
Which is why the Singapore Government was alarned and felt they needed a law to deal specifically with religious fervour. They did consider other laws at the time, i.e. the Penal Code (which we also have in Malaysia) and the Sedition Act (which we also have). Here is what they had to say about those laws in their White Paper of 1989:-
“In some cases, prosecution under these provisions may be possible and can be justified. But often these measures will be too severe and disproportionate. Prompt action may be necessary to stop a person from repeating harmful, provocative acts. A Court trial may mean considerable delay before judgment is pronounced, and the judicial proceedings may themselves stoke passions further if the defendant turns them into political propaganda.”
The Singapore Government even had (and still has) the ISA (which we had but repealed. Using our ISA wouldn’t work anyway due to the precedent set in Joshua Jamaluddin‘s case). But they said in the White Paper that the ISA was designed to combat subversion, not the misuse of religions and that not all uses of a religious group to advance political causes are subversive.
Imagine that, thus the reason why the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, introduced and passed in 1990 and coming into force in 1992, was concieved was because the Singapore Government was of the view that existing provisions in the Penal Code on inciting religious hatred was too harsh. Further, a court trial would have delayed things, serving as ammo to the accused to stir up even more religious division and thus another preventive law to deal specifically with abusing religion was needed.
The Act, passed under Article 15(4) of the Singapore Constitution (Article 11(5) of our Federal Constitution) limiting religious freedom on public order, works by way of restraining orders issued (pursuant to Section 8(1) of the Act) against any person who:
- Causes causing feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups;
- Carrying out activities to promote a political cause, or a cause of any political party while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief (hmm, sounds exactly like what a certain High Priestess Snowflake is doing);
- carrying out subversive activities under the guise of propagating or practising any religious belief; or
- exciting disaffection against the President or the Government while, or under the guise of, propagating or practising any religious belief.
According to Section 8(2), this order may include the following prohibitions:-
- Restraining him from addressing orally or in writing any congregation, parish or group of worshippers or members of any religious group or institution on any subject, topic or theme as may be specified in the order without the prior permission of the Government;
- Restraining him from printing, publishing, editing, distributing or in any way assisting or contributing to any publication produced by any religious group without the prior permission of the Government; and/or
- Restraining him from holding office in an editorial board or a committee of a publication of any religious group without the prior permission of the Minister.
A restraining order once made lasts for two (2) years until renewed (Section 8(3)) and is subject to review every 12 months and can be revoked at any time before then (Section 14). The violation of a restraining order carries the penalty of up to 2 years jail, fine up to S$10,000.00 or both for a first time conviction, and fine of up to S$20,000.00 or up to 3 years jail for any subsequent conviction (Section 16(1)).
So has Singapore ever felt the need to use this law since its introduction? If yes, who was it used against? Has the law been successful? Do we need a similar law in Malaysia? For the answers to these questions and more, await the final two last swooshes of our whip in our concluding article.