Singapore, as some of might know, has a bit of a reputation for being a 'nanny state'. The very same Internal Security Act which empowers the ISD has, in the past, been used to legitimize the detention without trial of opposition politicians, or generally anyone regarded as a 'dissident'. It has also been used to legitimize the shutting down of independent news media, usually on the grounds that unregulated media might incite 'civil unrest'. Whether these punitive measures are justified or not is arguable.
Anyway, I am glad that he is getting his just desserts. But the law that curtails this sort of activity is a bit of a double edged sword.
In a country where there is probably more religions mish-mashed together than anywhere else on earth, you can't blame ISD for acting so quickly. Racial harmony is one of the most difficult things to maintain!!
In any case, the pastor has been made to make a public apology
and had tea with the offended religious heads. Pastor apologises personally to Buddhist & Taoist federations
By Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 09 February 2010 2332 hrs
SINGAPORE: The pastor who was called up by the Internal Security Department (ISD) for making insensitive remarks against the Buddhist and Taoist faiths has apologised personally to the leaders of the two religions.
The leaders of the two faiths accepted Pastor Rony Tan's apology, and wish to let the matter rest.
Pastor Tan of Lighthouse Evangelism made the comments at his church sessions. These sessions were video-recorded and made available on Lighthouse Evangelism's website.
Video clips of these sessions subsequently became available on YouTube and other websites. The clips showed Pastor Tan interviewing a former monk and a former nun.
Some who viewed the videos felt the pastor had insulted the Buddhist and Taoist faiths.
On Monday, the pastor was called up by the ISD. That same night Pastor Tan issued a public apology on his church's website.
On Tuesday, he met the leaders of both faiths at the monastery at Bright Hill for about an hour and apologised in person.
Venerable Kwang Sheng, president of Singapore Buddhist Federation, described the meeting as amiable. "When he first came in, he said he wished to apologise to us, saying that things on the video clip seemed to be very uncalled for.
"He realised that it was a mistake and the magnitude of the response was quite large. So he realised it was a serious issue, and he wishes to apologise to the Buddhists and Taoists for his wrongdoing.
"And (he) said that he will not repeat his mistake again. We accepted his apology."
When asked if he was satisfied with what Pastor Tan said, Venerable Kwang Sheng told MediaCorp: "Yes, because what else can we demand if someone else has already apologised? He said he was quite ignorant of other religions, he doesn't know the practice of Buddhism."
Venerable Kwang Sheng added that there will be room for better communication in future. "We exchanged name cards, and perhaps in future we may be able to meet and talk about our religion and his religion and if there are any misunderstandings in future, we can communicate."
In response to MediaCorp's query, the Singapore Bible College said it trains would-be pastors to be mindful of what they say, especially in a multi-religious society.
Dr Albert Ting, principal of Singapore Bible College, said: "You can talk about your uniqueness, you can talk about your values, you can talk about your doctrines, you can talk about what constitutes the basis of your faith.
"That is all within the allowable discussion. That is your faith, you can't change it. But whenever you're engaged with others, then you want to show your respect."
In a statement, the National Council of Churches said an advisory was issued to Christians in 2008 "not to denounce other religions" even as they evangelise.
But in the heat of the moment, a preacher can cross the line. And here is where the popularity of new media has made the situation more complex, because once these speeches are uploaded on the Internet, they can be easily forwarded to other people and posted on other websites.
Alvin Yeo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said: "There becomes a greater onus on whoever is making the video or being in the video, to take responsibility for their actions."
"The new phenomenon of the Internet and, you know, where everyone's mobile phone has a video facility, means that whatever you say and do, even in more limited confines, can well be spread to thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or potentially millions others," he added.
He also said the answer is not greater regulation but personal responsibility, adding that "depending on whether the message is incendiary (or not), I think authorities will move fast to take action, particularly if the outreach is that much greater."
The Islamic Council of Singapore said comments that "denigrate and trivialise" other faiths are unacceptable in Islam, while the Inter-Religious Organisation said it is "comforting" to see that many of the public comments speak for the need for religious harmony in Singapore.