Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Post No. 105: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's”…

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” – Matthew 22:21, NKJV

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Voltaire (attributed)

Recently, it was reported by Mr. Alex Au, of Yawningbread fame, on his blog that in its feedback to the authorities over the proposed revision of the local Penal Code, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) has suggested that lesbianism, like homosexuality, should also be criminalised. The exact words used by NCCS were as follows: “Given that section 377A PC criminalises homosexuality whether done private or publicly, we are of the view that a similar prohibition ought to be enacted in respect of lesbianism, considering that lesbianism (like homosexuality) is also abhorrent and deviant, whether consensual or not”.

This was later picked up by Mr. Wang who, similar to Mr. Au, criticised the logic of the above statement by NCCS and its move to ask for the local authorities to criminalise lesbianism. These sentiments were echoed by those who have commented on these 2 blog entries respectively. If I may summarise, the main thrust of all the criticism against NCCS’s move to ask for the local authorities to criminalise lesbianism was that it violates the principle of separation of church and state.

However, with no intention of offence and/or disrespect to Mr. Au, Mr. Wang and those who have commented on their blogs and while I understand their point of view, looking at this whole issue from a different perspective, I have come to the opinion that the abovementioned move by NCCS does not appear to violate the principle of separation of church and state and is perhaps perfectly legitimate.

Before I move on to elucidate on how I came to such an opinion (and before any of you all start to click on “Post comments” and proceed to “flame” me for saying that NCCS’s move to ask for lesbianism to be criminalised is perhaps perfectly legitimate), allow me to first clarify 3 things.

One, I am not a Christian (in fact, for those who know me personally and/or have read my Post No. 8 will be aware that I see myself as a humanistic agnostic free thinker).

Two, I am not in support of NCCS’s (or any other person’s or organisation’s, for that matter) move to ask for the Singaporean State to criminalise lesbianism; I am only arguing that this move of it does not appear to go against the principle of separation of church and state and that it seems to be a legitimate move.

Three, like many out there, I am sceptical of the idea that homosexuality/lesbianism is somehow “un-natural” and/or “immoral” in nature.

That aside, let me move on to explain why I came to the opinion that the abovementioned move by NCCS is not a violation of the principle of separation of church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) and state and that it is perhaps a perfectly legitimate move.

Well, basically, from how I understand it, the principle of separation of church and state was put in place to prevent the church (or, in broader terms, religion) from controlling and/or dominating the state and vice versa. Thus, in accordance to this interpretation of mine, NCCS’s move to ask for the criminalisation of lesbianism does not violate the principle, considering that it seeks only to influence the state and not to control and/or dominate the state (of course, whether they will want to do so is a different issue altogether).

In addition, it should be noted that, in Singapore, it is perfectly legitimate (or at least I think and hope that it is so) for people and/or organisations to express their views to the state in the hope of influencing public policies. And, thus, though you all may disagree with me on this, I am of the opinion that, like the rest of us and all other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the NCCS, which can be seen as a NGO, is perfectly legitimate in exercising its option to provide feedback to the state about public policies. I mean, the NCCS also consists of people who are citizens of Singapore and this would, by right, give them the right to express their views and concerns to the state in the hope of these concerns being addressed.

If I may, I would liken the NCCS’s move to ask the Singaporean State to criminalise lesbianism to the situation in which a group of Singaporeans band together to file a petition to the Singaporean State to not approve the construction of casinos (or euphemistically known as “Integrated Resorts”) in Singapore.

Of course, lest any of you all are mistaken, I am in no way equating homosexuality/lesbianism to gambling. I am just saying that in both these situations, there are people who feel strongly about a certain issue, which they feel goes against their moral and/or ethical sentiments, and act to express their feelings and concerns to the state, hoping to influence and/or change the latter’s decision about that particular issue.

Hence, if we allow for people to petition against the construction of Integrated Resorts, I do not see why we should disallow and/or criticise the move by NCCS.

Anyway, after checking with my friend who is currently studying law and doing some elementary research on my own, it would appear that there is no specific clause in the Singaporean Constitution that upholds the principle of separation of church and state. The closest thing to this would perhaps have to be sections 8b-d in the Religious Harmony Act. And even here, there is nothing against religious groups providing feedback and/or suggestions to the state on public policies or laws.

Hence, like the quotation from Voltaire that I have cited above, though we may disagree with the move by NCCS to ask the Singaporean State to criminalise lesbianism and/or think it is not right for them to do so, it is their right to do so.

Moving on, it should be noted that despite the move by NCCS, it is ultimately still up to those in the Singaporean State (i.e. those with the power) to decide whether they will accept the suggestion by NCCS. And, in my opinion, this suggestion would most likely not be accepted. This is considering that, in effect, sections 377 and 377A (even with the proposed amendments) remains biased against homosexual sexual acts (or as they are termed in section 377: “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”) in general, which would, by extension, include lesbianism (NCCS is perhaps just splitting hairs when it is asking for the criminalisation of the latter) and thus, there is no imperative, from the point of the state, to add the prohibition of lesbian sexual acts to these 2 sections.

Furthermore, I think it should be noted that even without the influence from NCCS, the separation of religion and state is perhaps not something which is absolutely watertight in Singapore. This is considering that even though they do not explicitly say so, it is highly likely that members of the Singaporean State could perhaps sometimes base their decisions on what their moral/ethical sentiments tell them and that these sentiments, for those who adhere to a particular religious faith, would most likely be derived from their religious values. Conversely, we also see members of the Singaporean State acting as honorary/advisory board members and/or chairperson of some local religious groupings and that religious groupings are also influenced and regulated by the secular laws of the state.

Hence, in conclusion, I would just like to reiterate the point that while we may disagree with NCCS’s move to ask the state to criminalise lesbianism, it would appears that it has a legitimate right to do so. And hopefully, its suggestion would not be accepted by the state. Even more hopefully, the state will decide to entirely repeal sections 377 & 377A of the Penal Code. But that is something which, in my humble opinion, would not happen anytime soon. But, hopefully, it will happen one day.

1 comment:

zsa zsa zsu said...

I agree with you. I consider myself a libertarian and I believe that people have the right to lobby for change and to persuade for change to happen.

However, they do not have the right to coerce other people into changing their mindsets and neither should the state have the right to intervene in the private lives of others. A law such as this does homosexuals a great injustice.

It's a very thin line that the state has to walk some times...

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