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Updated: July 31, 1987 05:00 PM GMT
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In his annual National Day Rally address to the nation Aug. 16, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew again warned that his government will not allow any religious personnel to meddle in politics.

In his two-hour, 40-minute speech, broadcast live on government TV, the 63-year-old prime minister aimed his remarks at Catholic priests, evangelical ministers, Muslim teachers and other religious leaders.

"Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanction or holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political," Lee said.

"Take it off. Come out as a citizen or join a political party and it is your right to belabor the government, but use a church or a religion and your pulpit for these purposes and there will be serious repercussions," he warned.

Describing the issue as "very difficult and sensitive," Lee told about 1,000 guests at Kallang Theatre that priests must "stay out of espousing forms of economic systems, or challenge the way we do things, social policy or theory.

"Once religion crosses the line and goes into what they call social action, liberation theology, we are opening up Pandora´s Box in Singapore," he said.

"Once you say multinationals are bad, National Wage Council recommendations are exploitative, where do we go from there?"

Lee said there is danger that if one religion begins dabbling in politics, other religions, not wanting to be outdone, might follow suit, resulting, he said, in "dismemberment of our multi-religious community."

Singapore´s main religious groups are Buddhists, Chinese religionists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

Lee said churchmen, priests and monks had "celestial, hallowed links" and so "their words carry extra weight," whereas the government can only appeal to the reason, logic and loyalty of citizens.

He said religious and para-religious groups should give relief to destitute, disadvantaged and disabled people, take part in activities fostering communal fellowship, and emphasize charity, alms-giving, and social and community work.

Lee said Sri Lanka and India are examples of nations which have suffered political turmoil because they allowed religion and politics to mix.

-- Lee also said younger Protestant pastors, who while studying in the United States saw Jerry Falwell´s Moral Majority influence President Ronald Reagan, may have misconceptions of what they can achieve in Singapore.

"First we are different. We are not a society where there is a broad-based acceptance of Christian values and Christian faith," the prime minister said.

"And however much progress we make, it´s unlikely that we are going to be Christianized (because) the same missionaries who went to China, to India -because they are civilizations with old established values and systems of life -- they never Christianized the place."

-- Lee said the Christian community in Singapore grew from 10 percent in 1980 to 12 percent in 1986. The government is not opposed to this increase, he said.

He said religion provides spiritual support, especially in coping with rapid changes as occurred in South Korea and Japan during the 19th century Meiji Restoration when many new religions started.

"They are all responses to fundamental changes in the social environment," he said, "because of industrialization, urban migration, war, allied occupation, and were all revitalizing movements to create a more satisfying way of life.

"There are those that are humanitarian ones: amelioration of social injustice, helping with education institutions, hospitals, welfare services.

"So I think it is to the good that our religions have helped to resolve what the psychologists calls anomie -- a sense of loss of purpose of life, loss of direction, stress, break in ties of community."

-- Lee earlier spoke of emergence of a new breed of Marxists in Singapore. He said every society has its share of disaffected and disgruntled, and also some genuine idealists.

Referring to 22 people detained in May and June under Singapore´s Internal Security Act and accused of being part of a network plotting to overthrow the government, Lee said they were forthcoming with authorities.

But this should not give anyone the mistaken notion that the English-educated are incapable of resolution, determination and conspiracy, he said.

Fifteen are still detained, including Vincent Cheng, former Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission executive secretary, and law graduate Kevin Desmond D´Souza of the Singapore Polytechnic Catholic Students´ Society.

Other detainees include a Harvard-trained businessman and two women lawyers. Lee, who delivered similar speeches in Malay and Mandarin, also spoke at length on Singapore´s economy and home-ownership.

-- Priests contacted by UCA News were cautious when asked to comment on Lee´s speech. Most declined, but two, saying they prefer to remain anonymous, said Lee´s speech is likely to dampen local Church social action efforts.

"This will push the local Church back 50 years to the time when we were only running welfare homes, child-care centers and old folks´ homes, if the official Church accepts this position," said a priest connected with the local seminary.

"I am personally very mad and frustrated by the whole thing. He (Lee) has insulted us priests. He doesn´t seem to understand the difference between party politics and politics in general. His accusations are not fair at all.

"The Church has the right to speak on issues that touch on moral values. We are there to help our people reflect and not to tell people what to do. We can no longer tell people what they should or must do and expect them to follow.

"People today can no longer accept that. We can only guide. He (Lee) speaks as if our people are hypnotized by us and will just do anything we say."

At least three other priests contacted agreed that the local Church will now have to move very cautiously and that the main aim of the Church should now be to educate both priests and laity on the social teachings of the Church.

"Quite frankly," one priest said, 91 about 75 percent of our priests don´t even know about liberation theology and hardly 5 percent of our people know what that is all about."

"Lee tells us not to mix religion with politics, but it seems he is mixing politics with religion," another priest commented.


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