05 August 2009

MOE principal to present at Christian lobby seminar

I draw your attention to the forthcoming GCF-RZIM Seminar on "Called To Engage - Being Salt and Light in the Public Square", scheduled on 8 and 10 August 2009 on the National Day weekend. Note that in the list of speakers is a Mrs Belinda Charles, who may be identified as the principal of Saint Andrew's Secondary School, a government-aided institution of learning under the purview of the Ministry of Education.

The purpose of this seminar, as described in its publicity, appears to provide a theological justification for faith-based discussion in the public of controversial social and political issues; identify a list of social and political issues to be targeted by Christian activists; and to compel Christians to engage in such behaviour in the public sphere as a religious obligation. Its goal, as stated in the PR materials, is so that "those in the positions of power will hear and respond favourably", i.e. to exert influence to align public policy with what this group considers as Christianity-approved ideals. In other words, this is a seminar conducted by the Christian lobby to provide the justification for its existence, its lobbying tactics, and its lobbying targets.

I note the recent statements on the need for religious harmony by SM Goh Chok Tong, SM Jayakumar, and Mr Wong Kan Seng. In particular, SM Goh's statement that religious sentiments should be kept private and the secular nature of our state and policy-making be respected. In light of this, I would like to seek the Ministry's clarification on the role of Mrs Belinda Charles in this controversial seminar, whose topic and timing is a direct challenge to our leaders' stance on religious harmony and the secular state.

I wonder whether the Ministry is aware of this seminar.

I wonder whether the Ministry approved Mrs Belinda Charles's participation and presentation at this religious seminar. I wonder whether the Ministry vetted the contents of Mrs Belinda Charles's presentation.

Does the stand of Mrs Belinda Charles at this conference represent the Ministry's official stand on religion and public policy?

I look forward to the Ministry's clarification on this matter. Concerned members of the public - and inquiring minds - want to know!

Inquiring minds: Ovidia Yu: "The list of speakers includes the principal of St Andrews Secondary School, a premier government-aided institution. Is this with MOE approval?"

Addendum: (7 Aug) As Ovidia Yu notes, Ravi Zacharias and his RZIM organisation is dedicated to training people around the world to "present Christianity as the only reasonable option by which people should live". I am shocked and surprised that such a religious activist was even allowed into Singapore by our Immigration Department for the purpose of preaching and teaching other people his exclusionary, exclusivist vision of religion - which clearly is inimical to Singapore's pluralistic, multireligious and secular society. I am shocked and surprised that such an organisation - dedicated to promoting an exclusionary, exclusivist view of religion - would be co-hosting any seminar in Singapore - and that the permit for this seminar was approved by the relevant authorities. I wonder whether the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Immigration Department would comment on why Ravi Zacharias was allowed here in Singapore, for this expressed purpose during our National Day weekend, and why this event was allowed to proceed. (9 Aug) We note that VCF-NUS has pulled out its notice of the GCF-RZIM seminar. The link now shows up blank. Also, the event has also been scrubbed from its events archive. If you wish to read the original text of the seminar notice, refer to Ovidia Yu's post, or look here or see here


Loyola said...

Leave the mission schools alone will you?

While I am against steeplejacking and the like, SAS is a government-aided mission school, not a government school.

There is a significant difference.Nothing wrong with her attending a religious conference in her personal capacity here.

Are we making a mountain out of a molehill and playing preemptive judge and jury now?

akikonomu said...

Hi Loyola,

1. I am uninterested in the mission school status of Saint Andrew's School. I am unsure how you managed to infer that this post had anything to do with SAS's mission school status.

2. While SAS is a government-aided school, it is NOT an independent school. Do refer to the Ministry of Education website for more information on government-aided schools, government schools, and independent schools.

Do also note that the Ministry of Education does not differentiate between the autonomy of government-aided schools and government-aided mission schools.

You are, of course, entitled to formulate your own opinion and ideal on this matter. Please do not confuse that with actual MOE policies or seek to confuse the public on this matter.

3. Whether SAS is government aided or government is irrelevant to the matter: Belinda Charles draws 100% of her salary from the Ministry of Education and is on its payroll and staff strength.

4. MOE Standing Orders specifically prohibit teaching staff and principals from making public comments in issues - even in their personal capacity.

Perhaps you would like to take the issue with them instead of me?

5. I'm not sure how a post that seeks for clarification from MOE on a series of questions based on its existing guidelines for staff is "playing preemptive judge and jury". Thank you for your concern.

6. As you have posted anonymously without the courtesy of even a blog link, I will not entertain further comments from you on this matter.

Chrisloup said...

Its terribly distressing that christians from other countries are trying to bring their culture wars to singapore when its failed elsewhere...

beneath all that religious rhetoric, is simply the motive of sucking money out of sheep.

mira said...

Anglicans in Singapore seem the most 'out there' in terms of pushing a religious agenda onto secular public space. Church of our Saviour was Anglican, St Andrews Cathedral screened the young earth creationists' latest faux-documentary, The Voyage That Shook the World and now Belinda Charles' willingness to participate in this forum that aims to push the boundaries. Have you read the online citizen's article on creationism creeping into local classrooms?

Donaldson Tan said...

In terms of monetary value, independent schools receive more public funding than government-aided schools which in turn receives more public funding than government schools. In terms of percentage proportion (however), government schools get the most (100%).

mathialee said...

Personally, am abit wary about calls to stop people from practising their faiths just because they hold a particular job --- i think that infringes on our right to religion.

Am also quite supportive of taking certain religious values into public policy, depending on how you interpret. Eg. many religions endorse structures to support the poor / oppressed, speak out against dishonesty/corruption etc etc. It depends very much on interpretations, and on whether people outside the faith agree that those values be imposed.

Where it comes to imposing beliefs that people outside the faith cannot agree with, I don't think stopping a policy maker from practising his/her faith publically will be an effective solution at all.

Instead, I think that as a country , we need to negotiate for , and establish clear guidelines on boundaries and terms of engagement, to regulate the secular-religious interaction in public space, rather than prohibiting individuals from religious practice.

Just my 2-cents worth. = )

Agagooga said...

If she were from a normal secondary school, she should be allowed to go but not trumpet her position as a principal. MOE has rules on staff doing this kind of thing - I'm surprised she was allowed to do it (it's such a retarded rule anyway).

However, she is not from a normal secondary school. St Andrew's has a religious history and affiliation. Indeed, at least in SAJC they hold chapel during school hours.

In fact, let us turn the matter around. Suppose, during the AWARE debacle earlier this year, an MOE principal had wanted to speak (in a private capacity) at a forum about the issue. Or to join the new AWARE exco.

A public-spirited member of the public, catching wind of this, reported her to MOE - and she was disciplined and prevented from speaking at the forum, or joining the new exco.

Would we see this as an attempt to uphold the Integrity, Service and Excellence of the Singaporean Government? Or ruthless trampling upon an individual's freedom

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

This is exactly like the Thio Li-Ann incident, where people who would normally claim to champion freedom of speech and academic freedom did a volte-face and tried to get her visiting professorship called off.

akikonomu said...


It's very interesting to bring in the point about "people practising their faiths". Most certainly it is WRONG to prevent people from practising their faiths!

That being said: I can very well imagine going to church, attending mass, taking the sacraments etc. as practising one's faith and ought to be protected as a right to religion.

I'm not exactly sure how speaking at seminars can be construed as "practising one's faith" and ought to be protected as a right to religion. But thanks for highlighting this, I'm sure they will use precisely this argument. Now we're prepared for the rebuttal =D


If I'm not wrong, I hear MOE did issue a circular to staff, advising them not to attend the Aware EOGM.

As a conservative, my concern would be whether MOE is, after imposing a rather draconian rule curtailing freedom of speech across the board, may proceed to selectively, arbitrarily and unfairly exempt individuals from it because of their posts or because of a particular topic...

Donaldson Tan said...

Religious liberty is not absolute - take it or emigrate. Singapore can do better with less religious zealots.

Agagooga said...

A: Why is speaking about one's faith not protected as part of religious freedom? The freedom to religion includes the freedom to speak about religion - unless you think Saudi Arabia is a good model for "religious freedom"

And conservatives are for curbing freedom of speech?!

D: So religious liberty in Singapore means you cannot talk about your religion? Great.

akikonomu said...

We could agree, at a philosophical level, that the right to hold religion and to practise one's religion is guaranteed.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights has it as such:

18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

That being said, I'm not sure if the right to religion is absolute, as a matter of principle and as a matter of legislation in Singapore.

The Chick Tract Duo certainly tried to make a weak go at this defence in their trial, claiming it was their religious obligation to evangelise. I'm not sure if the judge bothered to accept or reject that line or just simply ignored that.

As a conservative, I am against totalising, all-encompassing definition of "religious rights" and "religious activities" that should be automatically protected. For public order and social safety, obviously. And to look at this seminar as some sort of 'religious activity' that should be accorded instant and absolute protection is kind of going down that slippery path to chaos, disorder and the downfall of Singapore =P

Agagooga said...

Hello how is speaking at a seminar inciting religious hatred?

beka said...

Hello how is speaking at a seminar inciting religious hatred?

They are speaking at a seminar on how to infuse religion into politics, that is to say, they are championing the use of a certain set of religious precepts to govern a multireligious and secular society. I think that in itself ought to be cause for concern, because it is positioning one religion as morally superior to other religions and other beliefs.

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