Thursday, May 28, 2009

The separation of religion and state is to protect them from one another...

On 26th May 2009, Professor Thio Li-Ann, speaking in Parliament, made a speech, peppered with quotes from various famous historical figures and sources, analysing what she sees as being Singapore's model of secularism and the interaction between religion and state in Singapore.

In that speech, Professor Thio, citing Matthew 22:21, remarked that the separation of religion and state was implemented to allow individuals to "enjoy freedom from state interference in matters pertaining to the worship of God". In other words, it would seem that, to Professor Thio, the separation of religion and state was to protect religion from the state.

I agree that the religious freedom of individuals and religion should be insulated from state intervention and/or interference.

However, although I may not be as well-learned as Professor Thio (and neither am I accustomed to consuming Nescafe coffee paired with chocolate croissants), it would seem to me that the separation of religion and state serves to not only protect religion from the state but also the other way around i.e. to protect the state from religion. For while it is important to protect religion from the state, it is just as important, if not vital and essential, for the state to be protected from religion.

In conclusion, it is my "untutored" (to borrow a word used by Professor Thio in her speech to describe the views of those who "denigrate religion as foolish superstition") opinion that the separation of state and religion is to protect them from one another and not only one from the other.


I find it somewhat comforting that, in a line not included in the edited version of her speech published by The Straits Times but which could be found in the CNA video of her speech, Professor Thio noted that "Theocracies are anti-democratic and oppressively homogenising, especially in plural societies like ours".


For those of you all interested to read more about secularism, you all may want to refer to here.

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