Singapore is a wealthy city-state of 5.5 million inhabitants, linked to mainland Malaysia. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1963. Today, Singapore is a parliamentary constitutional republic, known for the conservatism of its leaders and its strict social controls.

Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

The constitution includes provisions for freedom of speech, assembly and association. Freedom of religion is protected: “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.” (Art. 15, Constitution) Parliament can restrict these freedoms in the event of concerns about national security, public order or morality. There is no state religion.

The law requires all associations of 10 or more persons, including religious groups, to register with the government. The law authorizes the Minister for Home Affairs to issue a restraining order against any person in a position of authority within a religious group if the minister ascertains the person causes feelings of enmity or hostility between different religious groups, promotes political causes, carries out subversive activities, or excites disaffection against the government under the guise of practising religion.

The non-religious do not have specific protection:

“Neither is there any legal bar against offending those who are not religious or are sceptical of religious claims, or indeed against proselytising or imposing one’s religious views on the non-religious. Non-believers seem to be fair game for religious proselytisation, as well as ridicule and abuse.”

— New Humanist, April 2013

The government’s overwhelming success in court cases raises questions about judicial independence, particularly because lawsuits against opposition politicians and parties often drive them into bankruptcy. It is unclear whether the government pressures judges or simply appoints those who share its conservative philosophy.

Education and children’s rights

The government does not permit religious instruction in public schools, although it is allowed in the country’s 57 government-aided, religiously affiliated schools. Religious instruction is provided outside of regular curriculum time; students have a right to opt out and be given alternatives.

Family, community and society

Belief demographics

The census of 2010 recorded 17% of Singapore residents as non-religious. The organization “Humanist Society (Singapore)” (an IHEU member organization) is well established.

“Over the years, the government and sociologists have noticed a slow, subtle rise in the level of irreligiosity among Singaporeans, but they did not take much notice of it. Academic literature and government speeches suggest a deeper concern over inter-religious relations, the danger of extremism and State-religion relations.”

 — The Humanist Society (Singapore)

Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism are Singapore’s principal religions. Singapore is the most religiously diverse country in the world, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

Family law

The law provides Muslims with the option to have their family affairs governed by Islamic law, “as varied where applicable by Malay custom.” Under the law, a sharia (Islamic law) court has non-exclusive jurisdiction over the marital affairs of Muslims, including maintenance payments, disposition of property upon divorce, and custody of minor children.

LGBT Rights

A Singapore Supreme Court ruling on October 29, 2014 to uphold the country’s ban on same-sex relations between consenting adult men is a major setback for equal rights in Singapore. The court decision sends a message that gay men may lawfully be subject to discrimination.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Singapore’s media environment is highly controlled. Self-censorship among journalists is common, there are curbs on online content, and private ownership of satellite dishes is not allowed.

The government maintains that racial sensitivities and the threat of Islamist terrorism justify draconian restrictions on freedoms of speech, but such rules have been used to silence criticism of the authorities. The government ruling party, the People’s Action Party has had a monopoly on power since independence from Britain.

Public assemblies must be approved by the police. The government may prohibit the importation of undesirable publications.

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