Skip to main content Accessibility help

Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion

  • Li-ann Thio


This Article seeks to explore the nature, function, source, and content of a constitutional civil religion (CCR) within Singapore’s constitutional experiment in managing the diversity of race and religion and promoting solidarity. CCR is constructed as a strategy to secure social harmony within the world’s most religiously diverse polity, through recognizing an irreducible plurality in ethnic and religious terms, while maintaining an indivisible unity through nurturing bonds of citizen solidarity. This dovetails with the function of the constitution as an instrument of social integration, involving the articulation and regular affirmation of shared community values and aspirations, as well as process and practices—or public rituals—which regulate dispute resolution or conflict management during instances or crises where racial and religious harmony is threatened. A functional approach is taken towards the idea of a civil religion, and the tasks of integration, legitimation, and inspiration it may play within a constitutional order. The nature of civil religion in general, and the sources of CCR in Singapore, as well as its expression as a public ritual in managing religious disharmony disputes is discussed.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Hide All

Ph.D. (Cantab); LL.M. (Harvard); B.A. Jurisprudence (Oxford); Barrister (G.I.), Provost Chair Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.



Hide All

1 Sajjad Ashraf, A Tale of Two Accidental Nations, Straits Times (Aug. 3, 2015),

2 As of 2015, the ethnic composition of the population was Chinese (74.3%), Malay (13.3%), and Indian (9.1%). The remaining 3.2% are Eurasians and other communities. Singapore at a Glance, Nat’l Integration Council, (July 20, 2019, 3:49 PM),

3 Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong, Race, Multiracialism and Singapore’s Place in the World, Straits Times (Sept. 30, 2017), [hereinafter Race].

4 Federal Const. of Malaysia, arts. 3, 12, 10 (1957).

5 Transcript, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s Interview with Seth Mydans of New York Times & Iht on 1 September 2010, Prime Minister’s Office Singapore (Sept. 1, 2010),

6 Equal citizenship is sought through measures taken to guard against majoritarianism of the Chinese who compose 74% of the population. This includes ensuring equal opportunities regardless of race or religion, guaranteeing religious freedom, and clamping down on hate speech. Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Singapore Must Safeguard Position of Minorities Amid Growing Polarization Abroad: Shanmugam, Straits Times (Feb. 1, 2017)

7 Eddie Barker, Minister for Law and National Development, Appointment of Constitution Commission, 24 Singapore Parliament Reports (SPR), at col. 429 (Dec. 22, 1965).

9 Li-ann Thio, The Passage of a Generation: Revisiting the 1966 Constitutional Commission, in The Evolution Of A Revolution: 40 Years Of The Singapore Constitution 7–49 (Li-ann Thio & Kevin YL Tan eds., 2009).

10 Vineeta Sinha, Religion-State Encounters In Hindu Domains: From The Straits Settlement To Singapore (Springer Asia Series 1, 2011); Gary F. Bell, Religious Legal Pluralism Revisited: The Status of the Roman Catholic Church and Her Canon Law in Singapore, 7 ASIAN J. COMP. L. 5 (2012).

11 Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Senior Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill, 85 SPR, at col. 741 (Nov. 17, 2008).

12 Const. of the Republic of Singapore arts. 39(A), 68, 152 (1965).

13 Supra note 3. PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that having multiracial presidents was symbolically important, reminding all, “especially the Chinese majority race,” that every community had a role.

14 See Const. of the Republic of Singapore art. 19(B) (reserving elections for a community that has not held the presidency for five or more consecutive terms).

16 Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister, Debate on Address, Yang di Pertuan Negara, 24 SPR 14, col. 91 (Dec. 15 1965).

17 Vivian Balakrishan, Foreign Affairs Minister, Budget: Committee of Supply-Head N, 94 SPR (Jan. 3, 2018).

18 The High Court in Chan Hiang Leng Colin v. PP noted that Articles 128 and 131 of the Constitution do not allow a citizen to renounce his citizenship without discharging his national service obligations. 3 SLR 662, at 685 (1994).

19 Article 142(3) provides that 50% of the net investment income of a financial year shall form part of the past reserves which must be saved, not spent. This principle of inter-generational equity is buried deep in technical provisions.

20 Jan-Werner Muller, On the Origins of Constitutional Patriotism, 5 Contemp. Political Theory 278 (2006). On German civil religion, see Michael Minkenberg, Civil Religion and German Unification, 20 Ger. Stud. Rev. 63 (1997).

21 Jan-Werner Muller & Kim Lane Scheppele, Constitutional Patriotism: An Introduction, 6 Icon 67 (2008).

22 The “Constitution” as a concept may be understood to mean not only the written instrument that regulates government but also, “those rules that are actually applied in the governance of the State.” The small “c” constitution would include laws regulating electoral processes, such as the Parliamentary Elections Act. Jan-Erik Lane, Constitutions and Political Theory 11 (1996).

23 Li-ann Thio, Soft Constitutional Law in non-liberal Asian Constitutional Democracies, 8 Icon 766, 766–99 (2010).

24 Li-ann Thio, Rule of Law, Religious Liberty and Harmony: Multiculturalism, Legal Pluralism and the Singapore Model of Accommodative Secularism, 5 J. L. Religion St. 254, 257 (2017).

25 See Jothie Rajah, Policing Religion, in Authoritarian Rule of Law 219–57 (2012) on how the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act has been used to reinforce the state’s treatment of religion as a security issue which needs to be preventatively managed by the government through the enforcement of non-justiciable restraining orders. Rajah argues that the Act, although never invoked, has been successful in socializing citizens to “perceive disparaging comments on faiths and practices as violating the precarious ‘harmony’ of multi-racial and multireligious Singapore,” such that it has offended citizens who, through complaints, draw the state’s attention to breaches of this “harmony” in seeking remedial action from the state.

26 The Pew Research Center ranked Singapore first on the Religious Diversity Index in 2014:

About a third of Singapore’s population is Buddhist (34%), while 18% are Christian, 16% are religiously unaffiliated, 14% are Muslim, 5% are Hindu and <1% are Jewish. The remainder of the population of 5 million people belongs to folk or traditional religions (2%) or to other religions considered as a group (10%).

Global Religious Diversity, Pew Research Center (Apr. 4, 2014),

27 Max Stackhouse, Sources of Basic Human Rights Ideas: A Christian Perspective, Pew Research Center (Sept. 24, 2018)

28 George Washington—in his Farewell Address (September 19, 1796)—did not think “national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Religion and the Common Good: George Washington on Church and State, in The Founders on God and Government 1–22 (Dreisbach et al. eds., 2004). Napoleon Bonaparte saw religion’s social role in utilitarian terms. Lewis Rayapen & Gordon Anderson, Napoleon and the Church, 66 Int. Soc. Sci. Rev. 117 (1991); Sanford Kessler, On Civil Religion and Liberal Democracy, 39 J. Politics 119, 120 (1977).

29 Alasdair MacIntyre writes of the modern nation-state presenting itself not only as a “bureaucratic supplier of goods and services,” but also “a repository of sacred values” which occasionally “invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf … it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.” A Partial Response to My Critics, in After Macintyre 303 (John P. Horton & Susan Mendus eds. 1994).

30 Robert Bellah & Philip E. Hammond, Varieties of Civil Religion (2018) (ebook).

31 The Malaysian Rukunegara is far less comprehensive than the 1789 French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizens,

32 John Markoff & Daniel Regan, The Rise and Fall of Civil Religion: Comparative Perspectives, 42 Soc. Analysis 333, 346 (1981).

33 John A Coleman, Civil Religion, 31 Soc. Analysis 67, 73 (1970).

34 Id. at 69.

35 Jose Santiago, From “Civil Religion” to Nationalism as the Religion of Modern Times: Rethinking a Complex Relationship 48 J. Sci. Study Religion 394, 399 (2009).

36 Robert Bellah, Tokugawa Religion (1957).

37 Markoff & Regan, supra note 32, at 342.

38 Edward Burnett Taylor, Primitive Culture: Researches Into The Development Of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art And Custom 424 (1871).

39 Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life xxxiv (Karen E. Fields trans., 1995).

40 N.J. Demarath III & Rhys H. Williams, Civil Religion in an Uncivil Society, 480 Annals of the Am. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. Rel. Am. Today 154, 156 (1985).

41 Jean Jacque Rousseau, Of Civil Religion, in Social Contract 305–06 (Ernest Barker ed., 1960).

42 Douglas H. Walker, The Tolerant Pessimist: Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Civil Religion and Religious Toleration, 7 Oxford J. L. Rel. 206, 215 (2018).

43 Id.

44 Demarath III & Williams, supra note 40, at 156.

45 Daniel Regan, Islam, Intellectuals and Civil Religion in Malaysia, 37 Soc. Analysis 95, 95–110 (1976) (describing Rukunegara as a “functional alternative to consociational politics of accommodations”).

46 Frank Reynolds, Civic Religion and National Community in Thailand, 36 J. Asian Stud. 267 (1977).

47 K. Peter Takayama, Revitalization Movement of Modern Japanese Civil Religion, 48 Soc. Analysis 328 (1988).

48 The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany in the Classroom Crucifix case distinguished the influence of Christianity upon the “general cultural foundations of society” from doctrinal religious content. Claudia E. Haupt, Religion-State Relations in the United States and Germany 196 (2011).

49 Robert N. Bellah, Civil Religion in America, 96 Daedalus 1 (1967).

50 Harold J. Berman, Law and Logos, 44 Depaul L. Rev. 143, 158–59 (1994).

51 Martin Marty, Two Kinds of Civil Religion, in American Civil Religion 145 (Russel Richey & Donald G Jones eds., 1974).

52 Susan S. Purdy, The Civil Religion Thesis as it Applies to a Pluralistic Society: Pancasila Democracy in Indonesia (1945-1965), 36 J. Int’l Aff. 306, 307 (1982/83)

53 Lily Kong, Civil Religion and the Invention of Traditions: Constructing “The Singapore Nation,” 20 Austl. Religious Stud. Rev. 77 (2007).

54 Id. at 78–79.

55 This was referenced as an aspirational ideal in PM Lee’s 2015 National Day rally speech. Derrick Ho, National Day Rally 2015: General Election Will be Called Soon, Says PM Lee, Straits Times (Aug. 23, 2015),

56 Kong, supra note 53, at 79.

57 Bhutan Const. art. 9(20) (2008) (espousing “a good and compassionate society rooted in Buddhist ethos and universal human values”).

58 Id. at art. 8(6).

59 Id. at art. 18.

60 Report of the Constitutional Commission, para. 38 (Singapore Government Printer, 1966). See A. Padre, The Right to Choose One’s Religion, Straits Times, Mar. 9, 1966, at 6. (Malay Christian priest stating it was possible to practice Malay customs without being a Muslim).

61 Chan Hiang Leng Colin v. PP, 3 SLR 662, 681G (1994).

62 Agreement relating to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia as an independent and sovereign State. (Kuala Lumpur, Aug. 7, 1965),

63 Nappalli Peter Williams v. ITE, 2 SLR 569, 28 (1999). For an elaboration of how Singapore courts define religion, see Arif A. Jamal & Daniel Wong Sheng Jie, A Tale of Two Diverse Countries: Religious Diversity in Canada and Singapore, 20 German L.J. XX, 7 (2019).

64 On being asked to ban Al Arqam literature by MUIS, the government indicated it had “no theological views on who is heretical and who is not.” Certain Controls Necessary to Keep Peace, Straits Times, Dec. 10, 1995, at 4.

65 “We hold the ring so that all groups can practise their faiths freely without colliding with one another in Singapore.” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Nat’l Day Rally Speech (Aug. 19, 2009) [hereinafter NDR 2009].

66 Id. PM Lee noted that while government is “secular,” religious groups and individuals were free to propagate teachings on moral issues.

67 Thio Li-ann, The Cooperation of Religion and State in Singapore: A Compassionate Partnership in Service of Welfare, 7 Rev. Faith & Int’l Aff. 33, 33–45 (2009).

68 Hawazi Daipi, Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill, 85 SPR, col. 751 (Nov. 17, 2008).

69 Id. at col. 741.

70 Zainul Rasheed, Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill, 70 SPR, col. 1259 (Apr. 15, 1999).

71 Zainul Rasheed, Budget, Ministry of Community Development, 74 SPR, col. 2220 (May 23, 2002).

72 Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, MUIS International Conference on Muslims in Multicultural Societies (Mar. 5, 2010),

73 Joseph Liow, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Dream, Straits Times (Apr. 4, 2015),

74 PM Goh on His Role as “Elder Brother, Straits Times, Oct. 20, 1994, at 4.

75 See Motion on Shared Values White Paper (Paper Cmd. No. 1 of 1991), 56 SPR, cols. 812–13, 818–20, 861–61, 834–36, 927, 930–31, 935, 967–68 (Jan. 14, 1991).

76 Teo Chee Hean, Shared Values, 68 SPR, col. 441 (Feb. 19, 1998).

77 Ong Chit Chung, Motion, Singapore 21, 70 SPR, cols. 1602, 1555 (June 5, 1999).

78 PM Goh’s vision: Nation Free of Racial Tribes, South China Morning Post, May 6, 1999.

79 Maintenance of Religious Harmony White Paper (Cmd. 21 of 1989) (Dec. 26, 1989) [hereinafter MRHWP].

80 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (Cap 167A), § 8(1) [hereinafter MRHA]. For an elaboration on the prophylactic approach of the MRHA, see Kevin YL Tan & Matthias Roßbach, State Answers to Religious Diversity in Germany and Singapore: History, Philosophy, and Strategy, 20 German L.J. XX, 19 (2019).

81 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Building a Civic Society, Harvard Club of Singapore’s 35th Anniversary Dinner (“People should debate issues with reason, passion and conviction, and not be passive bystanders in their own fate ….”).

82 Thio Li-ann, Between Apology and Apogee, Autochthony: The “Rule of Law” Beyond the Rules of Law in Singapore, SJLS 269, 284–85 (2012).

83 Debate Yes, But Do Not Take on Those in Authority as “Equals,” Strait Times, Feb 20, 1995, at 11.

84 Thio Li-ann, “We Are Feeling Our Way Forward, Step by Step”: The Continuing Singapore Experiment in the Construction of Communitarian Constitutionalism in the 21st Century’s First Decade, in Constitutionalism In Asia In The Early Twenty-First Century 270–94 (Albert Chen ed., 2014).

85 NDR 2009, supra note 65.

86 NDR 2009, supra note 65.

87 Need to Guarantee Position of Minorities in Singapore, Secure Common Space: Shanmugam, Straits Times (Feb. 1, 2017),

88 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally Speech 2015, Aug. 23, 2015.

89 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, supra note 3.

90 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, supra note 3.

91 Charlene Tan, Creating “Good Citizens” and Maintaining Religious Harmony in Singapore, 30 British J. Religious Ed. 133, 133–42 (2008).

92 Bellah & Hammond, supra note 30.

93 NDR 2009, supra note 65.

94 National Day Rally Speech, supra note 88.

95 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, supra note 3.

96 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Debate on President’s Address in Parliament, May 16, 2018.

97 Salleh, supra note 6.

98 Salleh, supra note 6.

99 Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant as a Political Concept, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (Sept. 24, 2018)

100 Danson Cheung, Guard Against Rise of Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Singapore: K. Shanmugam, Straits Times (June 5, 2017),

101 Walter Sim, Collective Effort Needed to Safeguard Racial, Religious Harmony in Singapore: Shanmugam, Straits Times (Jan. 19, 2016),

102 Fostering Close Inter-Religious Ties Has to be an Effort by All: Shanmugam, TODAY (Oct. 13, 2017),

103 Id.

104 Article 51(A)(e) of the Constitution of India declares it a fundamental duty of all citizens “promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.”

105 MRHA § 3.

106 MRHA § 8(1)(a)–(d).

107 Agree to Disagree: Conversations on Conversion 18 (2010) (ebook).

108 Sedition Act § 3(1)(e) (1948).

109 Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Home Affairs Minister, Decision to Refuse Entry to Foreign Religious Preachers, 94 SPR, (Aug. 1, 2018). Two Christian preachers were banned from coming into Singapore. One described Allah as “a false god” and referred to Buddhists by a Hebrew word (Tohuw) which means “lost, lifeless, confused and spiritually barren.” The other said Islam was “not a religion of peace” and was interested in “world domination.” Both had made “denigrating and inflammatory comments of other religions” in the past which were “unacceptable in multiracial, multi-religious Singapore,” according to the Home Affairs Ministry. Elgin Toh, Two Foreign Christian Preachers Denied Entry into Singapore, Straits Times (Sept. 9, 2017),

110 Need to Guarantee Position of Minorities, supra note 87.

111 Shanmugam, supra note 109.

112 Sim, supra note 101.

113 Karl Llewellyn, The Constitution as Institution, 34 Colum. L. Rev. 1, 3 (1943).

114 Id. at 17.

115 Id. at 26.

116 Matthew Palmer, Using Constitutional Realism to Identify the Complete Constitution: Lessons from an Unwritten Constitution, 54 Am. J. Comp. L. 587, 590 (2006).

117 The courts have declared implied constitutional principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, and fundamental rules of natural justice, for example.

118 White papers are public documents and other instruments like declarations that are available on official government websites.

119 Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Board and Government Companies (Paper Cmd. No. 5 of 1999), available at

120 Deputy Prime Minister Shunmugam Jayakumar, The Meaning and Importance of the Rule of Law, IBA Rule of Law Symposium (Oct. 19, 2007), at 17–19.

121 Li-ann Thio, Constitutional ‘Soft’ Law and the Management of Religious Liberty and Order: The 2003 Declaration on Religious Harmony, SING. L.J. STUD. 414 (2004).

122 Shared Values White Paper, (Paper Cmd. No. 1 of 1991), available at

123 Id. at para. 18. Minority religions—such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses—experience less protection of their religious freedoms as their pacifist beliefs clash with compulsory military service.

124 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 46.

125 Thio Li-ann, Relational Constitutionalism and the Management of Religious Disputes: The Singapore ‘Secularism with a Soul’ Model, 1 Oxford J.L & Religion 446 (2012).

126 Stephen C. Angle, Human Rights and Harmony, 30 Hum. Rts. Q. 76 (2008).

127 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 13.

128 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 15.

129 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 15.

130 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 11.

131 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 16. The government seeks to preempt this conflict by denying work passes to foreign preachers with a track record of “radical preaching and teaching” which is intolerant and segregationist, so as not to give them a direct physical platform to spread their teachings in Singapore, even if these are available online. Shanmugam, supra note 109.

132 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 18.

133 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 24.

134 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 20.

135 Zalman Putra Ahmad Ali & Zainul Abidin Ibrahim, Spirit of Blessings to All: MUIS’ Contribution to Social Cohesion, in Fulfilling The Trust: 50 Years Of Shaping Muslim Religious Life In Singapore 255, 261 (Norshahril Saat ed., 2018) [hereinafter 50 Years].

136 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 28.

137 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 26.

138 MRHWP, supra note 79, at para. 25.

139 Majlis Ugama Islam Sinagpura, Riselah for Building a Singapore Muslim Community of Excellence (2nd ed. 2006), [hereinafter Riselah].

140 MUIS Statement on Mufti Friday Sermon, Media Statement (Sept. 29, 2017), at para. 6.

141 Persatuan Ulama dan Guru-Guru Agama Islam Singapura, Moderation in Islam in the Context of the Muslim Community in Singapore 111–12 (PERGAS Ulama Convention, 2003).

142 The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism White Paper, (Paper Cmd. No. 2 of 2003), available at [hereinafter JI White Paper].

143 Id. at 24.

144 Id.

145 Id. at 23.

146 Id.

147 Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Minister of State, Resolving Ethno-Religious Conflicts: The Singapore Experience, 12th Conference of the East and Southeast Asia Network for Better Local Governments (Dec. 2, 2004).

148 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean urged that, in the interests of preserving religious harmony, efforts should be directed to “counter extremism and violence in all forms.” Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Speech, Opening Ceremony of the 17th General Assembly of the Regional Islamic Da’wah Council of Southeast Asia and The Pacific (Oct. 3, 2017).

149 JI White Paper, supra note 142, at 22.

150 Singapore’s Malay Muslims Can Be Modern Vibrant Community That the World Looks Up To: Shanmugam, Channel NewsAsia, Apr. 1, 2017; Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Fatwa Committee Has Helped in Building Harmonious, Multicultural Society: Tharman, Straits Times, Feb. 11, 2017.

151 Annex B: Presentation of Certification of Recognition for Muslim Religious Schools, in MUIS Factsheet, Asatizah Recognition Scheme Code of Ethics (Oct. 27, 2017).

152 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally Speech (Aug. 21, 2016) [hereinafter NDR16].

153 “All Singaporeans, and not just Muslims, must exercise vigilance against extremist religious teachings and suspicious or clandestine activities.” JI White Paper, supra note 142, at 22.

154 Toh Yong Chuan, Two Auxiliary Police Officers Arrested for Terrorism-Related Offences, Straits Times, June 20, 2017.

155 Islamophobia as Unacceptable as Radical Terrorism, Says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Straits Times, June 20, 2017. Prime Minister Lee described the incident of a white man driving a van into a crowd of Muslim worshippers leaving a mosque in London’s Finsbury Park as an act of Islamophobia.

156 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Opening Remarks, A Dialogue with Community and Religious Leaders (July 24, 2017).

157 Id.

158 Danson Cheong, Guard Against Rise of Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Singapore: K. Shanmugam, Straits Times, June 5, 2017 [hereinafter Guard].

159 Chong Zi Liang, Stop Anti-Muslim Views From Taking Root: Shanmugam, Straits Times, Mar. 31, 2016.

160 Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Fostering Close Inter-Religious Ties Has to Be an Effort By All: Shanmugam, Today, Oct. 13, 2017 [hereinafter Fostering].

161 Guard, supra note 158.

162 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally Speech (Aug. 23, 2015). So, too, Prime Minister Lee stated after the swearing-in of President Halimah Yacob, he “posted a picture on Instagram of myself, President Halimah and Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. A Chinese, a Malay and an Indian – only in Singapore.” Race, supra note 3.

163 Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Singapore Must Safeguard Position of Minorities Amid Growing Polarisation Abroad: Shanmugam, Straits Times, Feb. 1, 2017.

164 Shanmugam, Fostering, supra note 160.

165 IRO President Warmly Invited to Light the Candle at Chanukah Festival 2017, Inter-Religious Organization, Rabbi Abergel testified to the “amazing spirit of harmony in Singapore, that we can celebrate a holiday that means so much to use with such pride, peace and safety.” Public Lighting of a Giant Menorah in Orchard Road, Straight Times, Dec. 22, 2011, at 2.

166 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, supra note 3.

167 The Impact of MUI Fatwas on Freedom of Religion in Indonesia, Jakarta Post, Aug. 6, 2005.

168 Singapore Track Blessed Ahead of Annual F1 Night Race, Today, Sept. 12, 2013; Religious Leaders Visit Downtown Line 3 Ahead of Launch on Oct 21, ChannelNews Asia, Sept. 25, 2017.

169 Tham Yuen-C, 2 Foreign Islamic Preachers Barred From Entering Singapore for Religious Cruise, Straits Times, Oct. 30, 2017.

170 Cynthia Choo, ‘Happy Chinese New Year,’ Says S’pore’s Top Muslim Leader in Inaugural Greetings, Today, Feb. 14, 2018.

171 Dr. Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, Mufti of Singapore, Lunar New Year Greetings, Today (Feb. 14, 2018),

172 Mosques Join Spreading CNY Cheer, Straits Times, Feb. 15, 2018.

173 Jewel Stolarchuk, Mosque Draws Flak From Netizens for Organizing CNY Celebration in its Premises, Independent SG, Feb. 27, 2018. Some netizens criticized having a song and dance in a sacred space like a mosque.

174 NDR16, supra note 152.

175 NDR16, supra note 152.

176 Rasheed, supra note 147.

177 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Strengthening Multi-Religious Relations for a Harmonious, Secure, and Caring Society, 85th Anniversary Gala Dinner of Jamiyah Singapore (Oct. 14, 2017).

178 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, supra note 148.

179 JI White Paper, supra note 142, at 23.

180 JI White Paper, supra note 142, at 23.

181 There are eighty-nine IRCCs, one for each constituency. Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, (last visited Aug. 4, 2019).

182 Press Statement, Declaration of Religious Harmony, para. 6 (June 9, 2003) [hereinafter Declaration of Religious Harmony]; Speech by Mr. Chan Soo Sen, Minister of State for Community Development and Sports and Educuation, Feb. 28, 2004, available at

183 The Declaration opens with the phrase, “We the people in Singapore.” Id.

184 A Religious Harmony Pledge for Everyone, Straits Times, July 19, 2003, at 15.

185 Ali & Ibrahim, 50 Years, supra note 135, at 263.

186 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, 13th Religious Rehabilitation Group Retreat, Mar. 14, 2017.

187 Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Muis’ Harmony Centre Drawing Interest From Abroad, Straits Times, Jan. 2, 2014.

188 Natasha Lakhpathy, The Harmony Centre, An-Nahdhah Mosque, The Ismaili, Nov. 13, 2007.

189 Ali & Ibrahim, 50 Years, supra note 135, at 267.

190 Ali & Ibrahim, 50 Years, supra note 135, at 268.

191 Mosques, supra note 172.

192 Harmony in Diversity Gallery, (last visited Aug. 6, 2019).

193 Theresa Tan, Roses to Spread Peace, Sunday Times, Feb. 4, 2018, at B7.

194 Ali & Ibrahim, 50 Years, supra note 135, at 271.

195 Shanmugam, Fostering, supra note 160.

196 Li-ann Thio, Contentious Liberty: Regulating Religious Propagation in a Multi-Religious Secular Democracy, Sing L.J. Stud. 484 (2010).

197 MHA Statement in Response to Media Queries on the Lighthouse Evangelism Videos and Comments Made By Pastor Rony Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism, Ministry of Home Affairs, available at (Feb. 8, 2010).

198 We Hope He Has Learnt a Lesson, Straits Times, Feb. 10, 2010, at 1.

199 For example, two Facebook groups—“Arrest Pastor Rony Tan” and “Embrace Religious Harmony! Disgrace to Zealots like Rony Tan”—called for arrest, and one made the illiberal suggestion of banning proselytization. Concerned Netizens Hurt By Christians, ChristIan Post, Feb. 12, 2010 (on file with author).

200 Toh Yong Chuan, Duo Warned for Uploading, Supporting Video, Straits Times, Apr. 4, 2017.

201 Public Prosecutor v. Nalla Mohamed, Brief Sentencing Remarks, MCN-900387-2017 (State Court); Imam Who Made Offense Remarks to Be Repatriated, Today, Apr. 3, 2017 [hereinafter Imam].

202 Sentencing Remarks, supra note 201, at para. 5.

203 Toh Yong Chuan, Imam Apologises for Insensitive Remarks, Clarifies That Remarks Were Not From Quran, Straits Times, Mar. 31, 2017.

204 Seow Bei Yi, Imam Visits Synagogue to Apologize for Offensive Remarks, Straits Times, Apr. 3, 2017.

205 Toh Yong Chuan, Minister Meets Imam Who Was Fined for Making Offensive Remarks and Will Be Heading Home, Straits Times, Apr. 5, 2017.

206 Toh Yong Chuan, Shanmugam Appreciates Imams Sincere Apology, Straits Times, Apr. 6, 2017.

207 Imam Has Shown Sincere Remorse, Regret: Shanmugam, Today, Apr. 5, 2017.

208 Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Police Looking Into Conduct of All Involved in Imam Case, Straits Times, Mar. 4, 2017.

209 Toh Yong Chuan, Yaacob: No Double Standards on Religious Harmony, Straits Times, Apr. 4, 2017.

210 Toh, supra note 206.

211 Toh, supra note 205.

212 Imam, supra note 201.

213 Joseph Weiler coined this term in Un’Europa Cristiana: Un Saggio Esplorativo (2003). It more narrowly referred to Europe’s deliberate denial of its Christian roots in drafting the European Constitution, though it generally connotes an anti-Christian bias. See George Weigel, The Cube And The Cathedral: Europe, America And Politics Without God 72–77 (2005).

214 Benjamin Lim, Lou Engle: An American Threatens a Christian-Muslim Divide in Singapore, Rice Media, Mar. 5, 2018.

215 Id.

216 Jeanette Tan, Church in S’pore Makes Police Report Against Rice Media for ‘Scurrilous Attack’ in Article, Mothership, Mar. 27, 2017.

217 Id. To my knowledge, the matter has been dropped and no action taken.

218 Justin Ong, Singapore Pastor Apologises to Muslim Leaders for US Preacher’s Alleged Statements on Islam, ChannelNews Asia, Apr. 4, 2018.

219 Id.

220 Zhaki Abdullah, Police Ask US Preacher to Return for Interview, Straits Times, Apr. 5, 2018.

221 Low De Wei, Regular Meetings Can Resolve Religious Controversies Say Muslim and Christian Community Leaders, Straits Times, Apr. 13, 2018.

222 Justin Ong, Singapore Churches Must Exercise Due Diligence, When Inviting Foreign Preachers, Says National Council, ChannelNews Asia, Apr. 5, 2018.

223 Andrew Cappel, Bringing Cultural Practice into Law: Ritual and Social Norms Jurisprudence, 43 Santa Clara L. Rev. 389, 395 (2003).

224 The Rice Media article revealed its anti-Christian bias, in speaking of “the growing influence of the Christian right in Singapore’s society,” as this opposes the homosexualism agenda that Lim supports. Lim, supra note 214.

225 Song of Friendship, Straits Times, Dec. 4, 2010; Jasmine Osada & Lim Yan Liang, Inter-faith Concert Gets Strong Show of Support, Straits Times, July 7, 2015.

226 “I thank our non-Muslim friends for accepting the apology. Their willingness to forgive reflects the Singapore way, where we uphold mutual respect and harmony for our common good.” Yaacob Ibrahim, Facebook (Apr. 3 2017),

227 Paul W. Kahn, A Civil Religion of Human Rights, in Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations: Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions 42, 57 (Helle Porsdam ed., 2012).

228 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, supra note 3.

229 Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political 26 (G. Schwab trans., 2007).

230 David T. Koyzis, What Would Kuyper Do? Idolatry and the Limits of Pluralism, First Things, Jan. 23, 2015.

231 Shanmugam, supra note 109.

232 Marcela Cristi, From Civil to Political Religion: The Intersection of Culture, Religion and Politics 33 (2001).

233 Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Transcript, Swearing in Ceremony for President Halimah Yacob (Sept. 14 2017),

234 Id.

* Ph.D. (Cantab); LL.M. (Harvard); B.A. Jurisprudence (Oxford); Barrister (G.I.), Provost Chair Professor, Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.


Irreducible Plurality, Indivisible Unity: Singapore Relational Constitutionalism and Cultivating Harmony Through Constructing a Constitutional Civil Religion

  • Li-ann Thio


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed