Need to tackle proselytism when drafting religious code: Minister

A draft of Singapore's Code on Religious Harmony is expected early next year after discussions with religious groups.

But the minister overseeing its progress, warned that there are some sensitive issues to be tackled.

One issue is proselytism where a religious group tries to convert others.

The Code on Religious Harmony will not be a law, but an ethos to prevent religion from ever being a source of conflict.

Tasked to draft this new set of guidelines is Minister of State for Community Development and Sports Chan Soo Sen, who is himself a free-thinker.

He plans to consult groups like MUIS, the National Council of Churches, the Inter-Religious Organisation and other MPs.

But Mr Chan assured Singaporeans that the code will not cramp the way they practise their religions.

Mr Chan said: "If they practise their religion in their own community, we won't restrain them.

"One slightly more sensitive area is proselytisation when one religious group tries to persuade others to join them. In a situation like this when someone they are persuading has another religious affliation, then how to conduct this in a way without offending other religious groups?"

Bishop Robert Solomon, President of the National Council of Churches, agrees this may be a problem and the code would have to balance the interests of different religions.

Bishop Solomon said: "Evangelism is very much a part of what we do, we believe in sharing our faith, we do not believe in forcing our faith on other people but we believe people are free to share their faith with one another.

"I don't think the code seeks to restrict preaching or something like that in church, of course if there's extremist preaching, there's always the Religious Hamony Act."

Despite this potential bone of contention, Mr Chan is confident a compromise can be struck without diluting the aim of the code.

Mr Chan said the very drafting of the code itself would be an educational experience for all the major religious groups involved.

He expressed hope this would enable them to feel that they have contributed to the development of the code, and so feel a sense of ownership.