From ‘Respect faiths of others in mission schools’, 6 Jan 2014, ST Forum
(Poh Choon Kiat): WHEN my family went to the Open House of a mission secondary school, we were told that non-Christians were welcome and that my daughter would not be forced to attend chapel (“Religious knowledge lessons important in mission schools” by Mr Benjamin Wee; last Friday). But after admission into the school, my daughter was forced to attend fortnightly one-hour chapel sessions.
When she protested that she was not a Christian, she was taken to see the principal, who made cutting comments about her knowing full well she was joining a mission school.
My daughter’s suggestion that she do her own revision or homework during chapel sessions was flatly rejected. In Secondary 3 now, she is still being forced to attend these sessions. The Education Ministry should ensure that all government and government-aided schools do not force chapel sessions on students of other faiths, as respect and tolerance of other religions are the cornerstone of our country’s values.
In 1992, St Andrews JC made attending chapel sessions a condition for admission into the school for a group of ‘appeal’ students, prompting the Education Ministry to summon Article 16 (3) of the constitution that states that ‘no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion OTHER THAN HIS OWN. In other words, no one can compel you to attend chapel if you’re a non-believer, even if the school has been established to promote the Bible as moral nourishment like pushing milk for strong teeth and bones. One of those students forced to ‘sing hymns’ and hear the chaplain preaching was a SIKH, who also lamented about Muslims being excused from such tedious rites.
‘Proselytising’ was a charge laid against the Anglo Chinese school way back in 1896, where about 60 Chinese boys were coerced into attending ‘religious exercises’. More than a century later, the ministry continued to warn schools against making religious activities compulsory or as a criterion for admission. PM Lee, himself from Catholic High, stressed in his 2009 National Day Rally that religious activities should be optional, and he didn’t want to see ‘Christians, Buddhists, Hindus all attending different schools’. But the evangelising wasn’t just happening in the confines of the school, some school teachers make it their personal mission to convert errant delinquents outside school hours.
Yet, it was in 1984 when the Government made ‘Religious Knowledge’ a compulsory subject for all secondary students, for it was deemed the ‘best and most dependable basis for inculcating moral values’, especially for rebellious teens corrupted by ‘Western’ influences. Except that no prayers, meditation or carrying of ‘artifacts’ were allowed during such classes. Which is like telling you to study a cookbook and not getting to cook anything, not even crack an egg. Within 5 years there were calls to scrap RK for good, and replace it with something more ‘inclusive’, like Civics, much to the agony of RK supporters who tried to convince us, and then Minister Tony Tan, that the scrapping of religious subjects was responsible for our young and impressionable becoming ‘materialistic and individualistic’. Look what good decades of religious study has done to the likes of Kong Hee and gang then.
There are those who still believe that the touch of God is a necessary rite of passage for a ‘complete’ education and upbringing of a person. Some even propose to offer Religion 101 to students (Offer Religion 101 to students, 8 Jan 2013, ST Forum), which is like revisiting the 80s all over again. Except there is no evidence from history that being exposed to religion in school makes you a more moral, wholesome being than one who hasn’t. You don’t even need to be in a school, mission or non-mission, to get harassed by proselytisers outside, like how I’ve been targetted during my secondary school days by people trying to educate me about Jesus Christ. What I came to appreciate, and despise, about religion didn’t come from school, but from social encounters, family gatherings and IRC chatrooms.
In fact, it may be easier if you’re a non-Christian in a mission school to just pretend and attend chapel anyway, so that your staunch teachers or friends won’t single you out and try to shepherd you onto the path of eternal life. Or just report diarrhoea and bring your homework into the toilet with you.