The constitution and some laws protect religious freedom; however, other laws and policies restrict this right in some circumstances. The constitution states that every person has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate religious belief as long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality. There is no state religion.
Religious groups, like all associations of 10 or more persons, must be registered under the Societies Act. Registered societies were subject to potential deregistration by the government on a variety of grounds, such as having purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, or good order. Deregistration makes it impossible to maintain a legal identity as a religious group, with consequences related to owning property, conducting financial transactions, and holding public meetings. Anyone who acts as a member of, or attends a meeting of, an unlawful society may be punished with a fine, imprisonment, or both.
By application of the Societies Act, the government deregistered the country’s congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1972 and the Unification Church in 1982, making them unlawful societies.
The Administration of Muslim Law Act provides Muslims with the option to have their family affairs governed by Islamic law, “as varied where applicable by Malay custom.” Under the act a Sharia (Islamic law) court has nonexclusive jurisdiction over the marital affairs of Muslims, including maintenance payments, disposition of property upon divorce, and custody of minor children. Orders of the Sharia court are enforced by the ordinary civil courts. Appeals within the Sharia system are made to the Appeal Board, which is composed of three members of the Majlis Ulama Islam Singapura (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, MUIS), drawn by the president of the MUIS from a panel of seven nominated every two years by the president. The ruling of the Appeal Board is final and may not be appealed or called into question in any other court.
The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act established the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony. The president appoints its members on the advice of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. Two-thirds of the members were required to be representatives of the major religions in the country. The Council for Religious Harmony considers and reports on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony that are referred to it by the minister for home affairs or by parliament.
The constitution states that the Malays are “the indigenous people of Singapore” and requires the government to protect and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social, cultural, and linguistic interests.
The Presidential Council for Minority Rights examines all legislation to ensure that it does not disadvantage particular racial or religious communities. The council also considers and reports on matters concerning any racial or religious community that are referred to it by parliament or the government.
Urban redevelopment authority guidelines regulate the use of commercial space for religious activities and religious organizations; the guidelines apply to all religious groups. Enacted in July 2010, the guidelines state that no more than 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) or 20 percent of a commercial complex’s gross floor area may be used for religious purposes. Activities are permitted no more than twice weekly. Religious organizations are limited to using 10,000 square meters (108,000 square feet) of commercial space.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa (Islamic), Good Friday and Christmas (Christian), Deepavali (Hindu), and Vesak Day (Buddhist).